Signing a lease can sometimes feel like signing away your life and relinquishing all future intentions of having fun in your rental unit. While the document may be thorough and detailed, it is often overkill and drafted as means to cover a property managers’ tail in the eyes of the law. Still, many landlords may surprise you with lenient policies or loose interpretations of the rules, regardless of what the legal document states. Here are some key questions to keep in mind:
Is Rent Pro-rated? Most landlords will pro-rate your rent for months that you are not living in the unit for the entire month. Still, others prohibit this and will ask that tenants only move in at the first of every month. If you can’t move in until the middle of the month, or need to move out a little early, you could be on the hook for some extra rent money.
Where and how do I pay rent? In this digital age, it is important to know how your landlord wants to get paid. For example, a snail mail check might not be the best option, but it might be the only option when dealing with an old school landlord. Others may have online payment options set up for tenants.
What exact utilities are included? If utilities are included, make sure you know exactly what your monthly rent covers. Gas and electric, or just electric (or just gas)? Cable TV? Internet? Water and sewage? Garbage and recycling removal?
How often are the locks changed? The importance of this question is a no-brainer, but it is also one of the most likely questions forgotten. To be safe, ask about it. Ideally, they are changing the locks for every tenant. If not, ask about how you can get the locks changed, even for a fee. Your safety is worth the extra spend.
Are there any additional fees? In a perfect world, there is rent and utilities and that’s it. In the real world, there are extra fees for all types of things from parking, to laundry services, and in some circumstances, you can’t even get by without paying some of those fees up front. Be direct and ask what you will owe outside of the normal stuff.
What is the maintenance process? You should understand how to get maintenance, and whether or not you are obligated to perform any maintenance (like mowing, keeping plants alive, etc.). Chances are, it doesn’t involve the landlord at all, so hopefully you can bypass an extra link in the chain of communications. Sidenote: Befriend the maintenance man. He is a good friend to have.
What are the terms of the security deposit? Most places will return your security deposit as long as the unit is left in the same condition that you received it in. Still, some places might have non-refundable deposit conditions and it might be obscurely located inside of a 38-page lease. Though you should read all 38 pages, you can also ask.
What is the policy on guests or temporary roommates? You may have some friends staying at your place for a week or more, or maybe you have a special guest stay with your for weeks at a time. Make sure you understand any stipulations related this type of activity.
What can I do and not do to personalize the space? Many landlords are cool with painting the walls or reorganizing the furniture in your space. Others have a strict policy against redecorating. Lease language is mostly legal-speak (and probably prohibits all changes you are thinking about), so make sure to ask about this separately if you have an idea in mind. There is no harm in asking, but unknowingly losing your security deposit can be very harmful to your wallet.
What is the pet policy? Landlords are all over the board on this one. You might be able to have a cat, but not a dog. A dog is cool, but a Pitbull is not. A lizard is fine but a bird is all bad. Maybe the only thing prohibited is a sloth (who would ever deny a sloth a place to live?!)
Are there designated quiet hours? You might find yourself on both sides of the fence on this one, which will help you either A) know when it is appropriate to call in a complaint, or B) know when you need to tone it down. This can be especially important if you are in tight quarters with your neighbors and want to remain in good standing.
What are the rules for garbage, recycling and outdoor spaces? Where do you put your garbage to be picked up? Maybe you have a tiny little balcony – can you grill on it? There are lots of things the landlord has been asked and will provide necessary info when prompted, but they don’t always proactively cover every specific about your property.
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