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Know These 13 Things Before You Sign a Lease

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Posted by Pete Evering on September 8, 2020
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Know These 13 Things Before You Sign a Lease

Whether you’re renting an apartment, condo, duplex, or full-sized home, there are a number of important things to consider before signing a lease. It is vital that you read the lease carefully and in full before you agree to anything. You should be fully aware of the terms that your landlord will be holding you to. Additionally, you have the option to negotiate any terms that you see unfair. Typically, many items in a lease are standard and your landlord may be willing to negotiate with you reasonably. You can also negotiate the term of the lease, whether it be annual or month-to-month. Here’s a brief checklist of the most important things to understand before signing a lease:

When is rent due? Is the rent pro-rated?

Of course, one of the first things you should find out is when the rent is due. The lease should include that information, as well as the policy for a late rent payment. Additionally, you should know if the rent is “pro-rated.” This means that your first month’s rent will be reduced if your move in date is not on the first of the month, so that you only pay for the time you spend there. You should also be aware of the process for rent payment, or how the landlord will accept payment. Usually you will be able to mail rent to the landlord or property manager. Sometimes there is an online payment option or an in-person delivery option. 

How much are the move-in fees?

It’s extremely important to be aware of the upfront cost for moving in. Usually, prior to your move-in date, you will have to pay first month’s rent and the security deposit, which can be up to 2 or 3 times the rent. There may also be additional administrative fees and costs specific to moving in.

Is any part of the security deposit non-refundable?

Typically the security deposit is returned if there is no damage or significant filth on the property when you move out. However, sometimes a portion of the deposit is deemed “non-refundable” for a certain reason. Be sure to understand the security deposit terms and any specific situations you can avoid to have your deposit returned.

Do you need renter’s insurance?

While renter’s insurance is strongly recommended for any renting situation, some landlords do not require it. See if your lease requires that you have renter’s insurance. If that is the case you will have to provide proof of insurance upon signing the lease.

What is the early termination policy?

Breaking the lease early can be a complicated process, so you want to understand the landlord’s position on early termination before you sign the lease. There are a variety of laws in California that grant tenants early termination for reasons such as active military duty or sexual harassment. However, for other reasons like loss of employment, the landlord can reject early termination and carry out an eviction. More commonly, there may be fees associated with early termination, such as withdrawal of the security deposit. Be sure you understand the process for early termination so you can be prepared for that situation.

What is the subletting policy?

Understanding the subletting policy is also important as it can save you a lot of trouble and avoid an eviction if needed. Find out the rules around subletting and how it can impact the monthly rent.

Are there non-tenant access rules?

Usually the landlord, maintenance workers, or property managers may need to stop by the property on occasion. However, there are laws protecting tenant privacy, so be sure to identify the policy for non-tenant access. It should include a required notice at least 24 hours in advance.

What is the process for a maintenance request?

The lease should detail the landlord’s responsibility for property maintenance and repair. It also should provide the process for requesting maintenance or repairs and any associated fees. This goes for all property upkeep, including pest control, plumbing, electricity, and physical damage.

What is the current condition of the property?

Find out if there are written records of the property condition before you move in. This will impact your security deposit at the end of the lease term. When you tour the property, conduct a thorough inspection and document all damage so you can prove the condition of the property before you moved in.

What is the lease renewal process?

Understand the required notice or associated fees with lease renewal. Your landlord may not notify you when it’s time to begin the renewal process, so it’s important to keep that in mind if you’re interested in renewing the lease.

Is there a pet policy?

Whether or not you have pets now, always consider the pet policy in case you decide to get a pet or need to babysit a friend’s. Often there are restrictions on pet size and an additional security deposit fee.

Is there a guest policy?

Of course, you will want to have guests in your new residence. Sometimes the lease will include specific rules about having guests overnight for an extended period of time. Be aware of those policies so you can avoid penalties for breaking the rules.

Is there a redecoration policy?

Some landlords will be stricter than others about customization and redecoration on the property. Confirm with the landlord what they are comfortable with in terms of customization, and it’s always a good idea to inform the landlord or property manager before you make any major changes such as wall paint or installments.

Documentation Required to Sign a Lease

Once you’re ready to sign the lease, be aware that a number of identification items may be required, including:

  • A photo ID, such as a driver’s license
  • Proof of employment and income
  • Registration information if you own a vehicle
  • Proof of renter’s insurance if required
  • Reference letters

Make sure to have these items ready to make the lease signing process simple.

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