7 Things Renters Really Should Check on Their Lease

Deal Score+22
Deal Score+22

Whether you are getting your first apartment or your tenth, reviewing the lease is the most important step in the process. After all, this piece of paper essentially determines your family’s life for at least the next year.

The problem is, your standard lease is riddled with unnecessarily big words, tiny type, and confusing legalese. If you’ve skimmed—or were simply confused by—your lease in the past, we won’t judge. We’ve been there! But now we’re here to help you master that lease by pointing you to the terms to eyeball before you sign on the dotted line.

The basics

At the very least, a lease should contain these key points:

  1. The lease term: Make sure you know—down to the exact date—when you have to re-up or move.
  2. Upfront fees: Security deposit, pet fee, rent paid in advance (if you paid for it, it must be listed).
  3. Rent term and due date: How much you owe and when you need to pay it.
  4. Late fee: How much you’ll pay if you miss the rent deadline.
  5. Security deposit return: Your state puts a limit on return times, but what you should get back, and when, should be clearly spelled out in the lease.

Remember, the lease is legally binding. Once signed, your landlord cannot change anything without your written permission. If he raises the rent in the middle of the lease, you have the right to sue or possibly terminate the lease.

Occupants

In addition to these basic terms, your lease may have some other terms, such as “occupant”. Of course, you are technically an occupant, but for the purposes of the lease, you are the tenant (i.e., the person the landlord can hold accountable if something goes wrong). Usually, roommates sign on as co-tenants, so everyone is equally responsible. However, spouses, children and other family members can be listed as co-tenants or occupants (meaning they live there but are not legally responsible for upholding the rules of the lease).

Pet clause

If you have pets, this article is a big deal. The pet clause tells you everything you need to know about keeping pets in your home. The clause should include the number of pets you can have (if any), their breed and age. It should also include the pet deposit you pay, whether that deposit is refundable, and the amount of pet rent (if any).

If this section is missing or blank, your landlord can later say he never gave you permission to have a pet and terminate your lease early. Make sure it is complete!

Condition of premises

Condition of the premises has two parts. The first part says your landlord legally swears the property is being rented in habitable condition—i.e., everything works and there isn’t a known mold or rat infestation. If your landlord signs off and you move in only to find out the place is a total dump, you have the legal recourse to terminate the lease.

The second part covers you. By signing, you’re agreeing to return the rental in the condition you first rented it, minus any wear and tear. If you don’t, your landlord can deduct from your security deposit to make repairs, or sue you if the repairs exceed what you put down.

Alterations

This article basically says that you can’t make changes to a rental property until you have written permission from your landlord. Changes include everything from installing a dishwasher to painting a bedroom or even removing the landlord’s mini outlet in some cases. So, make sure you know what you are not allowed to touch.

Addendums

An addendum is anything your landlord adds to the lease that goes beyond what is provided for in the standard agreement. Add-ons can include noise level clauses, length of stay for visitors, or who is responsible for lawn care. But remember: if the law says no, your landlord can’t enforce it. So, for example, if your state has a 30-day turnaround period for security deposits, your landlord can certainly say in the lease that all deposits are to be returned within 90 days; but if you sue for the return of your deposit sooner, the landlord will lose in court.

Termination

The termination clause explains how the lease ends, but be careful that it goes beyond the end date of the lease. Some leases contain an automatic renewal clause, which means the lease will automatically renew for another year if you do not give the landlord advance written notice that you are moving. If you don’t know and go to terminate the lease after the notice period has expired, you may be liable for an early termination fee.

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