10 Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease

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apartmentAfter you have decided upon the apartment you want to call home and you’ve given serious consideration to location and amenities, the next step is to sign the apartment lease. Prior to signing a lease, however, you should make sure you ask the landlord and know the answer to the following 10 questions:

1. How is the financial responsibility divided between 2 or more unrelated parties in the event one of the renters fails to pay their share of the rent, violates the lease or moves out?

Typically, each person named on a lease is jointly responsible for the lease until the lease term is completed. In fact, each individual is independently obligated and bears the full financial responsibility for the lease regardless of written or verbal commitments the individuals made to each other as to their responsibilities. If one party fails to pay the rent, or if one party moves out, the other individual(s) named on the lease can be held responsible for paying the rent. No party is released from the financial obligation created by non-payment of rent until all debts are paid in full to the landlord.

If the rent is not paid, all of the individuals named in the lease could potentially have their credit damaged (assuming the Landlord obtains a judgment for non-payment of rent) regardless of whether partial payments were made. Thereafter, an otherwise spotless credit history might contain a permanent stain.

2. What is the typical term of a lease?

Typically, apartments leases are one year (12 months). There are some landlords that will lease for less than a year. It is likely the rent will be more per month for short term leases.

3. How much notice is required to move out?

Every building has its own policy regarding termination notice. Most landlords require you to provide a full sixty calendar day notice. This allows time for the landlord to obtain a new tenant. The sixty calendar days’ notice is not the same as sixty days’ notice. Sixty calendar days are two full calendar months. Landlords typically require that notice be in writing and many require that the notice be sent certified mail in order to eliminate any dispute as to the date notice was given. Landlords typically use the mailing date as the start date, but the tenant should check to make sure the start date is not based on delivery/receipt of the notice to the landlord.

4. Can I have a pet?

You should most certainly ask this question during your search—in fact, you should ask about pets well before you are presented with a lease to sign. You should review your lease to make sure the document you are about to sign contains written provisions that permits pets.
Don’t assume you can have a pet just because you can’t find the provision that prohibits having a pet because such restrictions may be covered within the rules and regulations that you received earlier, misplaced or the rental agent forgot to give you. Permission to have a pet must be in writing. Do not rely on any verbal statements regardless of the source. The courts generally require all terms and conditions to be in writing. You need to also confirm the amount of any pet deposit required.

5. Can I alter the look of my apartment? (i.e.: painting the walls a different color)

Most landlords prohibit a tenant from changing the color of the walls (and ceilings). Some landlords will offer a custom package including alterations and changes. These packages are usually provided as a cost in addition to the base rent. If you do repaint (because you have permission in your lease), make sure you aren’t required to repaint the walls when you move out. Landlords generally use the same paint colors so as to reduce the labor cost of painting the walls and ceiling between tenants. The cost to repaint, if you weren’t permitted to change paint colors, will be passed onto the tenant under the damage above “normal wear and tear” provision.

6. Are there any restrictions to when I can move in?

The answers to these questions and more are to be found in the lease agreement, or the community’s rules and regulations. Typically, the landlord is free to adjust the rules and regulations periodically (without regard to term). In practice the landlord will do so only at the beginning of a new lease term, and only after notification to the tenants.

7. What is included in rent?

Make sure you confirm within the lease all the costs that you are required to be paid and the costs that are already paid for are consistent with the written provisions of the lease. Everybody makes mistakes including rental agents, as well as tenants. You or your rental agent may forget what was said during the entire process—from being shown the apartment to the signing of the lease. Therefore, it is an absolute must that you review all of the financial responsibilities required under the lease. What utilities are included and what are not? To whom do you pay each month? Is there an extra fee for parking or amenities? Find out.

8. How do I get maintenance to service my apartment?

Typically, you will be provided a written how to guide with regards to maintenance requests. Find out who you should call in the event of an emergency (electrical outage, flood, no air conditioning in the summer time or not heat in the winter time). Find out how and to whom you should make less urgent maintenance requests, and how and when you can expect service. It’s a good idea to check out the reputation of the service team online. We suggest going to Apartment Ratings prior to signing your lease.

9. Can I sublet my apartment?

Typically, the answer is no, but some landlords allow you to do this if the new tenant makes a new application with the office. There may be a fee involved, and you may still be held responsible for any damages that occur as a result of the sublet tenant’s activities.

10. Will I be refunded my security deposit in full when I move out?

Typically, the law provides that the landlord return your security deposit within 30 days of your moving out at and the end of your lease. However, the landlord is permitted to withhold money for any damages above normal wear and tear. You must read your lease to find out if you are required to clean the apartment, fix small nail holes, clean the carpet, and when the apartment will be inspected. The landlord is required to provide an itemized list of the damages and the associated repair costs if any deductions are made to your security deposit. The landlord is permitted to charge reasonable profit and overhead on top of the replacement or repair cost being charged. Therefore, it is in the tenant’s interest to perform any cleaning and minor repairs required before returning the keys to the landlord.


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