Whether you're still house-hunting or have just moved into your new place, the central connection between any renter and their landlord is the lease. The terms of the lease are contractually binding, meaning that once both of you sign it, you are both obligated to uphold whatever's written inside. You may think you know everything about being a renter and have seen every boiler-plate lease on the market, but when it comes to contracts, never ever assume. You never know if this landlord has customized their lease, and it's important to know what you have actually agreed to. Here are the top ten things every renter should look for in their lease agreement.
1) Your Security Deposit
Not all security deposits are made equal. They can be big or small, easy to get back or ridiculously tedious. Sometimes there are other fees as well, often non-refundable, like a cleaning fee. Watch out for these and make sure to clarify with your landlord or property manager how to get back your security deposit.
2) Utilities and Services
Every rental is different when it comes to utilities. Make sure you know which utilities are your responsibility and which ones the landlord intends to cover. You should also check on who covers the garbage service. You can get an idea of local utility costs by asking a few neighbors if you're feeling social.
3) How Late Rent Works
No doubt you intend to pay your rent in full and on time every month, but don't let that stop you from reading the late rent policy. Stuff happens you don't always have control over, like your cat getting terribly sick on rent payment day. Make sure you know:
- How late rent can be
- What the late fee is
- If you can stop the late fee with partial payment
- If late rent is grounds for eviction
4) Other Occupants
Maybe you live alone now or signed the lease with a partner or roommate, but occupancy can change during the period of your lease. Read your lease to find out the length of time you can have guests over without adding them to the lease and if you're allowed to sublet with or without permission. This is especially important if you're thinking about a little Airbnb action.
5) Who Repairs What
Get a very clear idea of what you are expected to repair yourself and what your landlord or property manager wants you to call in for. Whether you're an independent DIY type or struggle to plunge a toilet, it's important to know what's written in the lease to know where your legal obligation lies.
6) Right of Entry (Yours and Theirs)
First, your lease indicates the date your landlord must give you the keys or face penalties and returned partial rent. Second, it tells you under what terms your landlord or property manager is allowed to enter your home. In general, their visits require forward notice and your permission so you don't have to put up with any 'Wacky Neighbor' surprise arrivals.
7) Your Landscaping Duties
In residential neighborhoods with single family homes, you might be expected to keep the yard nice in order to maintain the value of the home. However, some landlords want to do their own landscaping or have it managed by a service. Make sure you understand what to expect.
8) Quiet Hours
Quiet hours usually only apply to multi-family buildings, but they are a part of some standard lease agreements. If this clause exists, you can definitely get evicted or other kinds of trouble for making too much noise at the wrong time. Read the lease carefully to know your soundscape rights and limitations.
Some leases are very clear about pets, some don't mention them at all. The lease will let you know what the base-rules about pets are, if any, and any updates should be discussed before you bring in an animal. Always get a new pet agreement in writing and signed to cover your rear in case of later disputes.
Most landlords use boilerplate leases printed up off the internet, which is perfectly fine, but never assume that just because you recognize the template that every clause will be exactly the same. Landlords also make addendums and edits all the time. Maybe a there's a custom late rent policy, maybe there's an extra pet clause. Sometimes there are very unusual things added like your requirement to tend their begonias or dry-clean and re-hang their drapes before moving out. In other words, better safe than sorry.
Leases may all look the same at a glance, but they often vary quite wildly. Never assume you know what's in a contract before you sign it and, if you did sign a lease agreement without reading it, now would be the time. As a renter, it's your job to know your responsibilities to the landlord, the property managers, and the property itself.