February 12, 2018

A lease is a contractual agreement and as with any contractual agreement, it’s legally binding. Thus, before committing to a rental lease, it’s important to know what you’re getting into.

Below are things to look out for when signing a lease agreement.

Subletting

Subletting is when an existing tenant lets part or all of a rented property to another person. The subletter then assumes the remainder of the original lease and deals with the landlord directly.

Subletting may or may not be allowed in the lease agreement. To be in the clear, speak with your landlord before subletting. Most landlords will agree to it so long as the subletter is qualified.

Pet fees and pet deposits

A “pet fee” is simply a one-time admission price to have a pet in the rental. This doesn’t, however, cover any damages the pet may cause. In most states, charging somewhere between $200 and $500 is pretty typical.

It’s not always legal for landlords to charge an additional pet deposit or fee. According to the Federal Fair Housing Rules, a landlord also cannot refuse to rent to someone with an animal that is a service or companion animal.

A pet deposit is usually refundable. This is, however, assuming the pet hasn’t caused any damages.

Late Fees

Landlords often impose a late fee when rent is even a few days late. In some cases, the late fee is subject to legal limits, and in some situations it’s illegal. As such, it’s important to check whether your state has any laws on late fees so that you don’t agree to pay something you don’t have to.

And if there’s no mention of late fees on the lease, it’ll be illegal for the landlord to charge you for paying the rent late.

Carpet Cleaning

The tenancy agreement may stipulate that you have the carpets professionally cleaned before moving out. This is regardless of whether they are dirty or not. Failure to provide proof of carpet cleaning prior to lease termination will result in a deduction of your deposit.

Termination Policy

The lease agreement also governs how and under what circumstances your lease may be terminated. A lease can be terminated in many different ways. For example, the expiry of the lease agreement.

If your lease expires, you may need to let your landlord know if you want to renew it. If you don’t wish to renew the lease but want to continue living in the property, your lease will automatically change to a month-to-month lease. Your landlord may agree or may not agree to this.

In other cases, the lease automatically renews unless you notify your landlord that you’ll be moving out. To avoid any surprises, make sure you understand the terms of your lease agreement in this regard. Specifically, be aware of things such as:

  • How long you will have to wait to get your security deposit back.
  • Cleaning requirements.
  • Any automatic reductions in your security deposit. For example, repainting fees, pet fees, or cleaning fees.
  • How much notice you will need to provide.

Early Termination Fee

An early termination fee is a charge a landlord levies a tenant who wants to break the lease early. Essentially, when you sign a lease, you’re agreeing to rent the unit for the full term of the lease.

For instance, if the lease is, say, for one year at $1,200 a month, then it means you’re agreeing to pay $14,400 to live there for 12 months. This means that even if you break the lease along the way you’ll still be liable for paying the remainder of the rent due under the lease.

Parking

Make sure you can park easily when you get home from work. Parking may be an issue, especially in urban areas. Some important things to ask about parking include:

  • What happens when it snows
  • The local laws regarding on-street parking
  • The number of vehicles you can park in the parking lot or driveway

Utilities

Some landlords may include utilities in the monthly rental price. This is especially true in buildings where apartments aren’t metered separately or sub-metered. In most of these cases, only the water and heat are included.

Most lease arrangements work out perfectly. However, if you are aware of what to look for prior to signing the lease, you’ll have a much better chance of a drama-free tenancy followed by a smooth exit.

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