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Lease 101: What You Need to Know Before Signing

You have finally found a place you love, so all you want to do is sign the lease and call the apartment yours. But first, slow down! You don’t want to end up feeling like you made a huge mistake shortly after the fact. Here are a few pitfalls to be aware of before signing on the dotted line.

Confirm Terms – Make sure your rent, deposit, late fee charges, pet policy, etc., are all exactly the same as what you have been told. If the property manager tells you that there’s no problem bringing your canine friend along, you don’t want to sign a lease that has a clause stating the building only permits cats.

Deposit Details – There’s little chance that you will get away not paying a security deposit. This money protects the landlord or property in the event that you cause damage. You may assume you will get it all back when you move out, but some of it may be nonrefundable to cover carpet cleaning or fees to change the locks. In some cases, landlords keep the money in an interest-bearing account and return the deposit back to you with interest in exchange for leaving the property in the same shape it was in when you started renting.

Extra fees – Don’t assume your rent price is the only money you’ll be forking over to live there. You may have parking, utilities, washer and dryer rental, and pet fees to pay. Is the fitness room included or is there a membership fee? What are the average renewal rates if you decide to renew your lease? Is cable and Internet included or do you have to pay to use the community’s Wi-Fi? Make sure you are aware of all fees you may potentially need to pay, especially if you live on a strict budget.

Community Rules – If this is your first apartment, and you’re excited to get away from rules enforced by your parents, you may be quite surprised to learn you have a new set of rules to abide by. This could be as simple as making sure visitors park in designated spaces and be respectful of nighttime quiet hours. However, they may also include no smoking or car washing stipulations in your community.

Lease Termination Policy – Can you get out of the lease, if you need to? Some leases have a clause that allows the lease to be broken, such as moving because of a military relocation or having a baby and needing more space. Make sure you also know if the landlord can break your lease. If you are moving into a private rental, you don’t want to discover 6 months from now that the landlord sold the building and everyone has to move.

Customization – Can you paint the walls? Some properties will let you paint as long as they approve the colors. Can you mount art and photos on the walls, as long as you fill the holes when you move out?

Subletting – Eight months from now, if you decide you want to move in with your significant other, can you sublet? If so, does the person need to be approved through the property? Are there any fees involved?

Maintenance and Repairs – Large properties generally cover all maintenance and repairs. Small boutique-style properties, condos, and rental houses may require you to take care of these expenses up to a certain amount. In some cases, you’re on your own for everything that needs to be done.

Move-in Checklist – Don’t sign the lease before you have done a thorough walk through with your landlord using a checklist you both can sign that notes any damages. You don’t want to be responsible for these when you move out.

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