What to Consider Before Signing a Lease


Most lease time frames are month-to-month, six months or one year contracts. A good lease clearly defines your responsibilities as a tenant and your landlord’s responsibilities as a lessor. For example, a lease should identify who pays for what utilities, tell how much notice you are required to give of your intent to vacate, protect you against rate increase for the term of the lease, and prevent eviction without proper cause.


  • Get it in Writing. While in some cases a verbal agreement may be enforceable, it is wise to put the terms of any lease arrangement in writing, regardless of the length of time you’ll be renting.


  • Look before you Lease. Inspect your unit before signing a lease and leaving a deposit. Look at appliances, electrical    systems, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, lights, water pressure, locks and windows. Make a list of repairs required prior to your move in, and have it signed by the landlord. All such promises of improvement should be received in writing.


  • Read Carefully before Signing. If you don’t understand    something, ask questions. If you have concerns, consider   having a professional review your lease. You may also want to contact that state’s attorney general’s office about specific state laws covering tenant’s rights and responsibilities.


  • Add What You Need.  Special clauses or modifications can be inserted into the lease document or attached as a rider. Again, you may want to seek professional assistance when making such lease provisions, but a common example is a buy out clause. This represents the terms under which you can buy out a lease, regardless of the reason. The cost of doing so will vary from market to market, and could range from a flat fee to an amount equal to several months rent. You may want to ask if the property manager has other specific lease provisions, such as a relocation or build/buy clause.


  • Clarify Notice Requirements.  Be sure to find out exactly when you are required to give notice prior to terminating a lease. You do not what to miss a deadline by 24– hours due to a simple misunderstanding.


  • Understand Deposit Requirements. All landlords have the right to require a security/damage/cleaning deposit. It is their insurance against damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. The amount varies from flat fee to one month’s rent. It could be retained in full by the landlord, and it cannot be used by a  tenant to pay rent. Make sure to get the exact requirements for the deposit in writing; know its purpose and under what circumstances you will get it back. Find out if the landlord is required to pay interest on the deposit, and if so, at what rate and what period of time. Other deposits to anticipate include pet deposits, key deposits, and recreation deposits. Be sure to also ask under which circumstances those deposits will or will not be returned and if interest is paid. If possible, accompany your landlord on their walk-through of your vacated property. This way you will know for what damages you are being charged.


  • Inquire about Additional Fees. Some landlords charge a rental application/credit check fee, which they require to check your references. Find out exactly what the fee is.


  • Don’t Forget about Insurance. Building owners carry insurance on the building and the property within it– but not on the property belonging to you. Contact an insurance agent regarding a renter’s insurance policy. It’s a relatively low cost way to protect your personal belongings. Consider natural  disasters, and find out about possible additional coverage.


  • Take Note of Move-In Conditions. Things may have changed since you first inspected your rental property, so a pre-move in walk through is critical. Many landlords will have a form to indicate a unit or property’s pre-move-in condition. Take a thorough walk through the property and make very specific notes of tears, scratches, etc.


  • Know about Tax Refunds. Be sure to find out what the state law provides as tax benefits to renters. Some recognize that renters pay real estate taxes through their rent and thus give renters a tax credit at year end. Your building owner must  provide you a statement of rent paid.


Please email if you have any questions or feel free to call 206-526-7730