Before Signing a Lease

10 Things You Should Do Before Signing a Lease – Part I

July 18, 2013 | Apartment Hunting, Apartment Hunting Advice

It’s such a great feeling when you find a place that looks perfect at first glance, but don’t rush into an apartment lease! It’s important that you check under the hood a little bit and do your homework before signing a lease. Keep your rental search on track and ensure that you sign a lease that works for you with our two-part series: 10 Things You Should Do Before Signing a Lease.

1. Relationships Matter. Establish a Good One.

Being polite and professional is the best way to develop a relationship with a prospective landlord and to create a successful rental negotiation. The way you conduct yourself during a property visit and in phone conversations is a reflection of you as a tenant. Never bluff or strong arm a landlord in a negotiation as this could backfire and create tension or worse, prevent you from landing the apartment of your dreams. Just as the landlord needs to trust you with their rental property, you also want to know that you can trust them to address your most important concerns and maintain a safe and comfortable home environment for you. So, put your best foot forward, be open, ask questions and take the time to establish a good relationship.

2. Think of Your First Visit as an Inspection.

Before signing a lease, make sure you really put it to the test. It’s important that your new home meets all of your criteria for function, safety and comfort.

  • Function: You want to make sure that the basic elements of your apartment are in good working order. Turn the faucets on in the kitchen and bathrooms to make sure you have clear, running water, good pressure and no banging in the pipes. Open and close the windows and make sure there are screens, especially if you have pets. Sometimes windows get painted shut, are not made to open, or are just plain hard to open—all potential problems. Open the closets, doors and cabinets in all rooms to make sure you will have ample storage space and that there are no lurking critters. Check the appliances in the kitchen to make sure they are up to your standards. Some apartments do not come with a refrigerator so it’s an added cost if you are required to furnish your own.
  • Safety: Check the locks on the front door to make sure they are in good working order. Make sure there is ample lighting in the hallways, on the property and in the parking areas so you feel safe at night. If the apartment has security gates and doors, make sure they function properly. Ask where the laundry facilities are located. If the only access to laundry room is from the alley and you can only do laundry at night, this might be an unsafe situation for you. If you can, make time to visit the apartment both during the day and at night. Often times, it’s easy to miss potential security concerns during the day.
  • Comfort: It’s important that you feel relaxed and comfortable in your new home. Make sure that the unit you choose has adequate space, meets your needs in terms of noise level and gets the amount of light that you prefer.

The goal of the inspection is to identify all potential issues before signing the lease so that you can address these with the landlord. Best case scenario, the landlord is amenable to addressing your concerns and you are able to get modifications and improvements written into your lease agreement. Worst case scenario, you discover that the landlord will not or cannot resolve your primary concerns, giving you the option to walk away from an apartment that may not be a great fit for you.

3. Document Any Existing Damage Prior to Moving In. 

Once the landlord has given you the option to rent the apartment, make sure to document any pre-existing damage before signing a lease. If there is anything that the landlord did not agree to fix from your initial visit inspection such as stained carpeting, broken blinds or missing tiles in the shower, make sure this damage is documented in your lease as pre-existing. By documenting such damage, you are protecting yourself from potential charges to your security deposit for which you are not responsible.

4. Know What’s Included. 

Some rental properties include utilities, cable and parking within the monthly rental cost, while other properties do not. This can impact your monthly budget and make an otherwise affordable apartment, not so affordable. Some properties might offer public transportation, on-site health club memberships, or discounts to local gyms, all of which could save you money. Before signing a lease, ask your landlord exactly what is included in the monthly rent rate so that you are clear about how this new apartment will impact your monthly budget and lifestyle.

5. Can You Customize? 

Painting the walls or installing your own lighting without permission could result in lease termination or loss of your security deposit. If apartment customization is important to you, be sure to discuss it with your potential landlord before signing a lease. Most importantly, be sure to get any approvals in writing to avoid any disputes at the end of the lease.

Fore more tips, read 10 Things You Should Do Before Signing a Lease – Part II.

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