10 Things You Should Do Before Signing a Lease
It’s such a great feeling when you find a place that looks perfect at first glance, but it’s important that you check under the hood a little bit and do your homework before signing the lease. Our top-ten list will help keep your rental search on track and ensure that you sign a lease that works for you!
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 – if you are a gourmet cook you will hate an electric stove-top but might be able to negotiate an upgrade. 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 and that you would feel safe and secure inside. Check to make sure there is ample lighting in the hallways, on the property and in the parking areas to make you feel safe at night. Ask if there is sufficient parking so that if you return home late at night you are assured a short walk to your front door. If the apartment has security gates and doors make sure these are not broken leaving the property accessible to vagrants and strangers. Ask where the laundry facilities are to make sure it’s conveniently and safely 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. More safety tips.
- Comfort: It’s important that you feel relaxed and comfortable in your new home. Make sure that the unit you choose has adequate space for all of your furniture and belongings, and meets your needs in terms of noise level and that it gets the amount of light that you prefer. For example, if you have a large sofa, take its measurement and your measuring tape with you on your site visit to ensure it will fit. If you are sensitive to noise you may not do well in a street level unit or one sandwiched between two floors or in a building with paper thin walls. Be aware of the noise level during your site visit. Likewise, if a lot of natural light is important to you then no matter how great the unit is, you will hate an apartment below street level or one with very few windows.
If you can, make time to visit the apartment both during the day and at night to get a complete picture. Often times in the light of day it’s easy to miss potential security concerns or the noise created by traffic and neighbors. It may be helpful to make a checklist prior to your visit to ensure you don’t forget anything. The goal of the inspection is to identify all potential issues prior to signing the lease so that you can address these with the landlord first. 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 prior to signing the lease. If there is anything that the landlord did not agree to fix from your initial visit inspection such as stained carpeting, broken blinds, missing tiles in the shower, or whatever it is, 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?
For some, the ability to customize their space is extremely important. If you are one of those people it’s better to know up front what the limitations will be. If you just can’t bare the idea of living in a white box and know you will want to splash bold colors on the walls, make sure that the landlord has approved of your painting project and color choices. If they do approve, they may even offer to do the painting for you if they are planning to have painters come in to refresh the paint anyhow. If you are keen to install your own lighting or built-ins or do anything that will impact the infrastructure of the unit itself you absolutely must get permission first as these type of alterations could be considered damaging to the property which could result in cause for lease termination or loss of security deposit. For ideas on how to customize your apartment without painting, read our post on removable decor.
6. Confirm Pet Policies.
If you currently have a pet, it’s imperative to know in advance what types of pets (if any) are allowed to live on the property. Many properties have strict rules as to the types of pets that are allowed, including specific breeds and weight limits. If you don’t currently have a pet but are interested in getting one in the future, it’s still important to ask so that you know what’s allowed in advance. Do not under any circumstance plan to “sneak” a pet onto a property. This could result in a lease termination, or worse, you could be forced to give up your pet. More tips on negotiating a pet-friendly lease.
7. Consider Your Commute.
Many renters who work in a city choose to live in the suburbs in order to save rent because oftentimes there are better rental deals in the outskirts. However, it’s important to consider the additional cost of your daily commute to work, before signing a rental lease in a suburb. Although your rent might be $200 or $300 less in the outskirts, you may end up paying that much per month on gas or a transit pass, depending on how far away you live. Believe it or not, sometimes it is cheaper to live in the big city and forgo additional transit costs.
8. Ask About Automatic Lease Renewal.
Unless you are leasing on a month to month basis, your lease agreement may include an automatic renewal clause. What this does is give you the right to renew your lease at the end of its term so you are protected from being asked to leave against your will. Typically, a lease renewal clause requires the landlord to notify you that your lease term is ending (usually 15-30 days prior) and to request notification from you if you intend not to renew. If this is not in your lease but you would like it to be, discuss this with the landlord prior to signing.
9. What’s Your Out Clause?
It’s important that you read the lease termination section of your lease agreement carefully so you understand the implications of breaking your lease early and your obligation of notice when you choose to move out at the end of a lease term. It’s easy to think that you will always love your new apartment and won’t have a reason to break your lease but life is uncertain and anything can happen so it’s good to be prepared for whatever comes and to ensure that you are comfortable with the terms of the agreement.
10. Get It In Writing and Read Every Word.
Before sealing the deal and signing your name on the dotted line, be sure that your lease agreement incorporates all the points you’ve discussed with the landlord around any improvements that have been guaranteed, any pre-existing conditions and any revisions to policies that may be set forth in the standard lease agreement. For example, if you’ve been given verbal approval for your pet or to paint your unit even though the lease agreement states otherwise, make sure that the written agreement gets modified. Make sure you read your lease agreement in its entirety so you fully understand your obligations to the landlord and their obligations to you. If there is any language which you don’t understand or feel uncomfortable with, don’t be shy. Ask questions and talk through it openly with your landlord so you have a complete understanding of what you are signing.
We wish you the best of luck in your next apartment search and hope these tips help!