WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR IN A LEASE
Leases are complicated documents that outline the terms and conditions of renting an apartment or house. A lease is made up by the landlord or property manager and signed by the tenant. Most lease agreements are for at least one year but there are short term lease options available for as little as one month. This is not typical, however. Regardless of what type of lease you are asked to sign, make sure you watch out for suspicious phrases that may be against the law.
Reading a lease can take a long time as there are several different clauses pertaining to payment, pets, visitors, subletting, maintenance, renting or buying furniture etc. You need to read over each section carefully and make sure you understand everything. Ask your landlord if you are confused with a statement. Ask to bring the lease home and have a friend or family member look over it as well. You may even want to bring it to a real estate lawyer and have them briefly check it through to ensure that everything is in order.
Lease Agreement Scams
One of the things to watch out for when it comes to signing a lease is any requirement where you must pay for all damages or repairs. This is against the law; by rights, the landlord or the property manager is supposed to pay for damages or repairs to the structure of the apartment. This includes appliances in most cases as well as problems with plumbing, heating, foundation, leaking roof, etc. Your landlord's insurance will cover these costs but, on the lease, your landlord may try to get you to pay for this. This is not right.
Another thing to watch out for when it comes to a lease is any lease that takes your damage deposit (also referred to as a bond) as part of your rent. Your damage deposit has nothing to do with your rent and, as long as the house is returned in good condition, then you will get this back. Of course, 'good condition' varies between each landlord and often you may have complications if the carpets are ruined, if there are obvious marks on the wall or if there is major repair that needs to be done after you have moved out.
Be sure to also check over the clause that discusses utility bills (electricity and water). If you are living in a house it is pretty standard to pay for your own electricity bills. The problems occur if you are required to pay for your utility bills in an apartment or complex. This is perfectly allowed unless there is only one meter for the entire building and the landlord or property manager is requiring all tenants to split the cost, regardless of how much you use. This is against the law. As long as the units are individually metered, it is fair to ask you to pay your electrical and water bills; if not, then you are not required to 'split' the costs of what others are using.
Knowing what to watch out for in a lease can protect your legal rights down the road. If you are unhappy with anything, such as how much you pay per month or how long the lease is for, you can discuss changing it with your landlord. He may be happy to extend the lease or lower the rent by $10; however, these changes must be amended in the lease and clearly signed by both parties. A lease is important to protect the rights of both parties and ensure the partnership is a smooth one.