Apartment Hunting

10.27.2018 | 6 Minute Read | By Michael Hochman

It’s difficult enough navigating through the terminology in descriptions of rental properties – duplexes and walk-ups, kitchenettes and half-baths, soft lofts and shotguns – but as you sign your lease and discuss the legalities of entering into that apartment contract, the scary-sounding words and phrases being hurled at you can make your head spin.

Particularly if you’re young or are renting your first apartment, the cacophony of legalese and professional jargon within your lease and surrounding your agreement terms can be confusing.

But fear not. Here is a simple list of 35 of the most common rental and lease terms.

1. abatement

n. [uhbeyt-muhnt]

A lease clause stating that if your apartment is damaged (not by your or someone in your care’s fault or from a disaster, also known as force majeure), your landlord will allow you to suspend your lease and not charge you rent while the apartment is uninhabitable and you’re living elsewhere.

2. accessible

adj. [ak-sesuh-buhl]

An apartment that’s able to be reached and occupied by a person with a physical disability. For a wheelchair user or person with mobility difficulty, this often includes lease- or government-specified items like ramps and no steps, larger doors, adapted bathrooms, lowered light switches and wide hallways.

For people with hearing impairments, this might include doorbell and smoke alarm lamp signalers or bed shakers. For people with visual impairments, handrails and special lighting might be included.

As a tenant, your lease may specify that you’re accountable for keeping areas where wheelchairs may go free of items that can block the path or doorway, such as bicycles and trash cans.

3. application

n. [ap-li-key-shuhn]

A document a potential tenant fills out so a landlord can decide if they’re qualified to rent the apartment. In addition to basic information such as your workplace, social security number and previous addresses, you may have to provide items such as pay stubs, bank statements, references and recommendations.

4. arrears

n. [uhreerz]

When you’re behind in your payments – whether it be late with rent or have a past-due utility bill – you’re in arrears.

5. boarder

n. [bohr-der]

A resident in your apartment that’s not on the lease and is not subletting, but is paying a stipend to dwell there. A boarder is usually not responsible for utilities and often has meals provided for them by the tenant. They also don’t have to go through a formal eviction process if you wish to remove them, as they have limited legal occupancy rights.

6. broker

n. [broh-ker]

A realtor who works off of commission and helps negotiate lease agreements between the landlord and the renter. Most states require a license to do this.

7. co-signer

n. [koh-sahy-ner]

A secondary (or more) signer of your lease who won’t be residing in the apartment. A co-signer is usually used when the tenant has a short or poor rental or credit history and needs someone (usually a parent or employer) to vouch for them. This secondary person is equally responsible for upholding the terms of the lease as backup if you cannot.

8. cotenant

n. [koh-tenuhnt]

Two (or more) people who sign the lease with the intent that both or all will occupy the apartment and be equally responsible for rent and other lease provisions. Cotenants both have equal and shared accountability and legal rights under the agreement.

9. credit history

n. [kred-it his-tuh-ree]

A public record of how you’ve managed your credit and debt in your past, including credit cards, loans and other leases. A potential landlord can request this from the credit bureaus to ensure you’ll be able to pay your lease and have a history of paying your debts before deciding to rent to you.

10. eviction

n. [ih-vikt-shun]

The formal process where your landlord terminates your lease and asks you to vacate your apartment in a period of time decided by local laws and statutes.

You can be removed from your apartment for failure to pay rent or breaking the other terms of your lease.

11. guarantor

n. [garuhn-ter]

Similar to a cosigner, a guarantor is a third party who “guarantees” you’ll pay your rent and fulfill your financial obligations as a renter.

12. guest

n. [gest]

A temporary visitor to your apartment who does not reside there, including your or your roommate’s significant other who sleeps over often. While someone visits you, they’re required to abide by the terms of your lease as well, such as quiet hours, behavior or parking restrictions.

13. kitty

n. [kit-ee]

A combined fund between apartment cotenants for non-rent financial responsibilities, such as groceries, cleaning supplies and utilities. Usually all parties agree to contribute equally to the kitty rather than on a per-use or amortized basis.

14. landlord

n. [land-lawrd]

The owner of your property, or an agent of the owner, who leases out the apartment. They’re responsible for their end of the lease and are liable for structural maintenance of the apartment as outlined in the lease. They’re also the ones that can evict you for breaking your rental agreement.

15. lease

n. [lees]

A residential tenancy agreement, a contract between you (and your cotenants) and the landlord or owner. This is where the amount of the rent, lease term, rules, regulations and your and your landlord’s responsibilities for the apartment are outlined in exchange for letting you live in the unit.

Nearly every lease is a written contract but, in fact, a lease can even be an oral agreement.

16. lessee/lessor

n. [le-see, les-awr]

The lessee is the tenant, or lease-holder, and the lessor is the landlord or owner who provides the lease to you.

17. mediation

n. [mee-dee-ey-shuhn]

This is a formal (and often legal) arbitration with an impartial third party employed to resolve disagreements between you and your landlord. Your lease may spell out conditions as to when mediation may be engaged, and who will do the mediating.

18. month-to-month

adj. [muhnth too muhnth]

A rental agreement that’s automatically renewed at the end of each month (as opposed to the end of the year or some other length) until ended by either party under the terms of the lease within a certain window of time.

19. notice to quit

n. [noh-tis too kwit]

A formal notice given to a tenant by the landlord stating he or she intends to end the lease and begin eviction. It will often state some cause that can be corrected, such as paying back owed rent or removing an illegal boarder, by a certain date to resolve the violation.

20. notice to vacate

n. [noh-tis too vey-keyt]

A formal notice given to the landlord by a tenant stating he or she intends to end occupancy of the premises and not renew the lease. Your lease will usually state a window during which you can do this without penalty.

21. profiling

n. [proh-fahy-ling]

An illegal discriminatory practice and pattern of refusing to rent to or rejecting a potential tenant based on their race or ethnicity, or another protected status such as disability or religion, often through deceptive or surreptitious means.

22. prorated

adj. [proh-rey-ted]

The amount of rent charged to a tenant when the first or last month of a lease is less than a full month. If you move in the middle of the month, the landlord will often only charge you for the percentage of the month you actually occupied the unit.

23. quiet enjoyment

n. [kwahy-it en-joi-muhnt]

A term often found in leases meaning you have an inherent right to peaceful and pleasurable use of your apartment within accepted standards. For example, this protects your basic rights to not have your landlord knocking on your door every day to bug you or having the lawn mowed at four in the morning.

24. renewal

n. [ri-noouhl]

The option the tenant has to continue living in the apartment after the initial term of the lease is over. There’s often a choice of renewing for the original term again, or converting to month-to-month.

25. rent

n. [rent]

An amount of money you and your landlord have agreed on in your lease for you to pay on a regular and constant recurring basis (usually monthly) in exchange for living in the apartment.

26. rent control

n. [rent kuhn-trohl]

A legal price limit that some communities in California, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and D.C. have set that restricts the amount of rent a landlord can charge. It’s in this way that some cities, most famously New York City (think Friends), have inexpensive apartments that would normally be exorbitantly-priced, although many are occupied by tenants that have lived there for decades.

27. roommate

n. [room-meyt]

It’s simply someone who shares a room or apartment with you. There’s no legal definition of roommate, and it could describe cotenants, you and a boarder, you and a subletter or you and your significant other.

28. screening

n. [skree-ning]

This is when a potential landlord runs a background check on your criminal, credit or rental history in order to discern if you have the right financial and legal background to pass muster as a qualified tenant.

29. security deposit

n. [si-kyoor-i-tee dih-poz-it]

This is the extra sum of money you provide to your landlord upon signing the lease or moving in that proactively covers any damage you might do to your apartment or rent you skip out on during the term of your lease. Your landlord holds this money in escrow until you vacate the apartment.

Upon move-out, your landlord will assess the condition of your apartment and refund your deposit minus any money he or she decides to charge for damage or repair beyond normal wear and tear. Many landlords, however, are moving to a cheaper and more flexible insurance-based system.

30. sublease

v. [suhb-lees]

When a renter rents out part or all of an apartment to another person. You can rent out a single extra bedroom in your apartment, or the entire place (either for a profit or because you’ll be away for an extended period).

But remember, you can’t sublet your apartment without your landlord’s permission and you, as the primary lease-holder, are ultimately responsible for the rent getting to your landlord and for any actions or damage done by your subletter.

31. tenant

n. [tenuhnt]

A person who enters into a lease and pays rent to occupy a space in an apartment or rental unit owned by another entity or person. A subletter or boarder is not a legal tenant.

32. term

n. [turm]

The lease-specified amount of time for which your lease runs during which you’ll occupy the apartment and pay rent to do so. This is usually a year, but can be nearly any timeframe or even open-ended.

33. termination

n. [tur-muhney-shuhn]

Any situation where either party to the rental agreement – you or the landlord – decides to end the agreement for whatever reason. Eviction, non-renewal and vacating for cause by either side are all types of rental agreement termination.

34. utilities

n. [yoo-til-i-tees]

The other expenses in your apartment for which you’re responsible that are billed and come on a consistent and recurring basis, sometimes depending on usage. They can include cable, heat, water, electricity, internet, garbage removal, storage, parking, natural gas, rental insurance, grill propane, sewer and more.

Some of these may be included in your rent. For those that are not, these are bills that are usually split equally between roommates, should you have them.

35. wear and tear

n. [wair and tair]

A term found in most leases that describes the acceptable amount of damage that does not trigger a monetary penalty deducted from your security deposit upon vacating the apartment. This takes the burden of responsibility away from the tenant for normal, unavoidable usage deterioration.

Repainting and carpet cleaning, as well as damage such as chips, scuffs and small scratches on cabinets usually fall under acceptable or normal wear and tear.

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