As a tenant, finding a house to lease is excellent. However, there are some things to look for when signing a lease. This is because the entire term of a tenancy depends on signing a lease document. You must pay close attention to the terms mentioned in the lease to make sure that the terms are in line with what you’ve agreed to with your landlord. So, when signing an apartment lease, here are some things to look for before you sign.
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Check the Rent Clause
This is perhaps the most crucial clause in your lease agreement because of the financial element involved. Sometimes, you agree with your landlord on the specifics about rental payments, but don’t bother to put it in your agreement either because the agreement has already been drawn up or because you have a good relationship with your landlord and don’t want to press your luck. The problem with it is you can’t depend on good relationships to last, or help you, throughout the tenancy period. It is imperative to get everything onto an agreement because it guarantees performance by both parties.
Always check if there is an escalation clause in your rental agreement. It is essential to get this escalation clause in your agreement as well so that the landlord doesn’t change his mind later about the amount of escalation or the percentage of it. Be sure the rate or amount is recorded accurately without leaving it ‘to be determined’ in the future or at a later date
Check the Security Deposit Clause
Check and confirm the amount of security deposit. Most states govern that the landlord can only charge one month’s rent as a security deposit. The rules governing security deposits are also strict. Within a set duration, like, say in case of New York, 14 days after collecting the deposit, the landlord should deposit it in a housing security deposit scheme. Lax in doing that, can attract a lawsuit. After the lease termination, the landlord should repay the security deposit within 14 days of the tenant’s exit.(1)
Ensure the amount of the security deposit is mentioned clearly and the variations or modifications to the amount of the deposit. Negotiate on what is allowed and what isn’t during the term of the tenancy to do with the security deposit. If the tenancy agreement permits, mention any interest charges that would be levied on the deposit as well
Don’t forget to inspect the house before you check-in. When you check the house, take a note of all the as-is situations in the home for the walls, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, kitchen cabinets, drawers, or any other utilities that the landlord may offer. Make sure this happens when the landlord is available. Several states mandate that the landlord should honor an inspection request and accompany the tenant for inspection.
Once you take note of how things are in the house, make sure there are rider contracts or appendices that describe the state things are in the apartment. This is to ensure that the landlord doesn’t penalize you for the state of things that were before you came in as a tenant. Do the same while leaving. But make sure to involve a clause that gives you the right to do that. Otherwise, the landlord could deduct the amount for which you’re not liable from your security deposit
Take note of the utilities that the landlord is offering you. This clause is important because it lays down the nature and the extent of utilities that the landlord is offering. Make sure you include the specific nature of the utilities and the extent, or limit, of utilities that you’re allowed to use as part of the tenancy. If you have to pay for some utilities that come with the tenancy, make sure you and your landlord agree on the fee that you pay for the utilities and how you’d be charged for any usage.
Make sure you also record who and how they would maintain the utilities. If there is a Super who takes care of the building, record the name and the contact number, including the time that you can contact the Super. In many cases, contacting maintenance or Super outside the agreed-upon terms happens on a goodwill basis. However, you can’t leave it to chance. Make sure you record the maintenance fee for the services the landlord is providing you.
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Smoking and Pets
Some landlords object to their tenants having pets in the house or smoking inside the apartment. The fire alarms built inside the apartment or your leased house could be sensitive so that the smoke would trigger them. Other landlords object to having pets beyond a certain size and weight. The contract could specify the pets that are allowed, and those aren’t.
However, if nothing is mentioned, make sure you take it in writing from your landlord the policy regarding the pets. This is to ensure that the landlord doesn’t renege on his promise if you’ve only taken an oral promise. Many landlords could also dictate terms that allow partying or restrict some activities inside the apartment. As long as they are fair, there is no reason to object. Decide beforehand whether you’d be okay with those clauses.
[ Read: Lease Termination Agreement ]
Several states have drafted legislation to protect your rights as a renter. You need to understand the rights your state gives you. Make sure you read up on the rights you have as a tenant and the offer that the landlord is making. Remember that at the end of the day, a lot depends on goodwill. Make sure you maintain a healthy relationship with your landlord. But if you’re unsure whether the agreement you have is sound and comprehensive, download our agreement templates.