Picture this: you are moving into your newly rented home or apartment. The birds are chirping and the aroma from a hot apple pie cooling on your neighbor's windowsill fills the air. Your new landlord is heading up the walkway—you assume to check in. He hands you a piece of paper outlining the money you owe him to move in and it's $300 a month more than you had agreed upon. This happened to Mark Swift, a contractor from Allentown, Pa. "I looked at everything, studied the lease up and down. I'm a private contractor; I look at property documents all the time. Pet allotments, maintenance procedures, eviction processes, it was all outlined. Everything, that is, except the monthly rent. Yes, I signed a lease that did not list the monthly rent. And I paid for it in a big way," he says.
The lesson to take away from this leasing horror story is to assume nothing. If the rent is not outlined on the lease, then don't sign it. Your lease should have every piece of information, agreed upon by the renter and the landlord, outlined in specific detail. Here are some more helpful hints to guide you through the lease process:
Magnifying Glass Required
The No. 1 area of your lease that requires careful review is the fine print, the small details. In the past, the term "fine print" referred to the section at the end of any contract. Now it also means the small details, not just the print that is physically smaller. The amount of the security deposit, the legal age to sign the lease and the requirement of a co-signer are just a few examples.
Can Rover Come Over?
You'll want to know everything, top to bottom, cover to close. For instance, many first-time renters will want to know what (if any) pets are allowed on the property. Everything from weight and breed requirements to the process for vacating a property that housed pets should be outlined in their lease. Knowing your lease inside and out before signing will curb any issues that may have otherwise surprised you.
Pack Your Snow Board AND Your Snow Shovel
The most overlooked section of any lease involves maintenance procedures. In most cases the landlord is responsible for all repairs to the property sustained through breakdown or natural wear. With that knowledge in mind, seasoned renters often gloss over the maintenance section of their lease. However, this section also outlines the timeline for any repairs, the up-keep you are responsible for (lawn care, snow shoveling, maintaining sidewalks, etc.) and how often regular maintenance will take place (bug-spraying, filter replacement, smoke detector inspections, etc.). Knowing all of the maintenance procedures and timelines will help you keep track of needed repairs and upkeep measures.
Know Your Utility Ability
It is important to know what utilities you will be responsible for and when you will be responsible for them. Is it your job to have the water turned on? Should the account be in your landlord's name or yours? Is cable included? What are the recycling procedures? Are plastic, paper and glass receptacles provided? New renters will also want to look at whether or not the landlord will add new utilities during the year or at the time of lease renewal.
Knowledge is Power!
Remember this: the lease guarantees your rights, but it also legally binds you to the property and the landlord. Breaking a lease because you missed something is an almost impossible feat. Save yourself the trouble and the court fees by reading your lease and knowing the fine print.