Ready to Sign Your First Lease? Pay Attention to These Things…

Moving into an apartment or house is exciting, especially if you’re doing it for the first time. Before you move in, you will generally be required to sign a lease, which is a formal and binding contract between you and a landlord. You should be aware of certain details before you sign such a document in order to be sure you are making the best possible decision.

Read the Lease—All of It

If you’re tempted to just skim through the terms of the lease and sign quickly, you should resist that impulse and read every word of the document. All leases are not created equal, and a potential landlord may not be concerned about whether you’ve read everything before you sign. Once you sign your name on that lease, you are legally required to meet its terms until the contract expires, so it’s in your best interest to know exactly what you’re responsible for doing.

The property owner should be willing to answer any questions you may have about the terms and conditions of the lease. However, if you don’t understand all of the terms of the contract, you may want to show the lease to someone else who can help you make sense of it. A relative or friend with experience in such matters is more likely to have your best interests at heart than a prospective landlord will be. If a landlord or property manager isn’t willing to allow you the time you need to read a lease, you should probably look elsewhere. If you want to take a copy of the lease home to read it at your convenience, a potential landlord should be okay with that, too.

Fees and Additional Charges

While every aspect of a lease is legally binding and therefore relevant, you will want to look at some specific details very closely. Be sure to scrutinize the lease for fees that a property manager may neglect to mention. Such fees might include charges for inspecting and cleaning your place once you move out (even if you clean it yourself, a landlord may choose to hire a professional to clean the carpets, for example). Look closely at the fees a landlord charges if you’re late paying the rent, and be certain that you are willing to pay such fees before you sign. If you have pets, be sure you ask about a pet deposit, and look at the lease to ensure that the pet deposit listed there reflects what the landlord has told you. Read the clause about security deposits and ask questions if necessary.

Examine the Clause Regarding Lease Termination

You may love the place that you’re moving into now, but that can change if you have obnoxious neighbors or the property is in a state of disrepair. Read the clause on lease termination carefully. Whether your lease renews monthly, semiannually, or yearly, you will probably be required to give a certain amount of notice before moving out, so be certain you know how much notice is required.

Inspect the Property

Don’t forget to inspect the property and the general area before you commit to the lease. Take dated photos of everything when you walk through the property. If anything is damaged, put the details in writing (and be sure your landlord signs it). Look outside to ensure that the property has adequate parking space for tenants. (Now’s a good time to scope out where your future guests can park, too!)

Moving into a new place can be a great experience. Take some time to explore the place you are considering. Read every detail of the lease, and don’t sign it if you don’t understand it or if you disagree with its terms. Good luck!