Whether you’re living solo for the first time or prepping for an apartment or home rental with your new roommates, your first lease is an important milestone. Before you sign on that dotted line, make a list and check it twice. Use these tips to make sure you’re well informed before you sign your lease and take responsibility for your new rental.
1. Do your research
Treat your commitment to renting a property in the same way you would carefully consider buying an expensive appliance or a new car: do your research. Look for online reviews from previous renters attached to the property profile in Google or on other social media platforms like Facebook. Search under either the landlord’s name or the name of the property company or apartment complex to find reviews in Yelp. You can even dig up complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau. Hopefully, you are working with a RealtorⓇ who can help you with all of this.
2. What are the lease terms?
Even if you and your prospective landlord have previously discussed that your lease will be a year long or month-to-month, make sure the lease term you’re expecting is the one that’s indicated on the lease itself. Whatever the terms are on the lease are the ones that you’re formally agreeing to, so you’re going to want more than just verbal confirmation.
3. What are the policies around breaking the lease early?
Obviously you’re not renting an apartment with the expectation that you’ll need to break your lease early, but life doesn’t always go exactly as planned and it’s possible that you will need to move out before the end of your lease term. Just in case, make sure you know what the policies around breaking a lease early are before you sign, particularly whether it is allowed and what the penalties are. While many landlords do allow early release of the lease if necessary, there may be a fine attached or you may be required to forfeit your security deposit.
4. Be Clear about Maintenance Responsibilities
Understand and document what your responsibilities are in terms of maintenance and who you should call in case of an emergency. When you move in, the landlord should document the condition of the property—if there is pre existing damage, insist that it’s recorded accurately before you accept the keys. Check all the appliances, door locks, and plumbing, and if anything needs attention, require that it be addressed now so you don’t end up paying for it later.
If your landlord doesn’t supply a checklist to verify the current condition of the property when you sign the lease, supply one yourself. There are several free templates online that you can use to document the condition of the property and ask your landlord to co-sign. If you a working with a RealtorⓇ, he or she will provide you with one.
5. How is rent paid?
Every landlord or management company has their own way of accepting rent payments. While in an ideal world you’d be able to just easily pay your rent online every month, it’s possible that you’ll need to drop off a check somewhere or mail it to a specific location.
6. When is rent due?
Most rents are due on the first of every month, but according to what it says in your lease, you may have some flexibility, especially if you have to mail a check somewhere. See if there’s a grace period on rent payments, such as three or five days from the first of the month. While chances are it will just be due on the first, it doesn’t hurt to find out if there’s a little wiggle room.
7. What are the move-in fees?
In addition to your first month’s rent, you may have other required fees due prior to move-in, including last month’s rent, a security deposit, administrative fees, elevator rental fees, or other specific move-in related costs. Check on what these are so that you can make sure you’re not hit with any surprises when moving day comes around.
The more you know about questions to ask before signing a lease, the better protected you’ll be against any surprises or upsets once the lease starts.