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Reading a lease


No renter avoids reading a lease. No matter what size apartment or home, where you choose to live, or how you pay for your move, you will need to read and understand the terms and conditions of your rental agreement. If you do not understand your lease, you could end up signing a legally binding document that puts you into a sticky situation without you even knowing it.

Leases create a legal contract between a landlord and a tenant for the rental of property. The landlord owns the property. The tenant, or renter, rents the property. The lease agreement covers the terms and conditions that apply to both parties throughout the duration of the rental. Before you sign, make sure to read the entire document.

Here’s what you need to know when you read a lease for an apartment or house.

Common rent and lease agreement details

Rental property details

The core of the lease should cover the basic details of the rental property. This description includes the street address, the name of the landlord or property owner, the name of the property manager, contact information for either or both, and the start and end dates of the lease. Other information in this section could include the option for renewal and policies for rent increases or rent control. The property details should also list fixtures, or fixed items in and around the property that are not part of the property itself. Fixtures include items like large appliances or furniture, for example refrigerators, washing machines, drying machines, dishwashers, microwaves, stoves and ovens, air conditioning units, tables, chairs, patio furniture, and more.

Rent, deposit, and fee amounts

Often, the money items catch a tenant’s attention first. These details include rent, deposit, any prepayment for the first and last month of rent, application fees, pet fees, renters insurance requirements, parking costs, storage costs, and more. The lease agreement should state these items in an easy-to-read way and should include the criteria for the full return of any deposit including local or state-mandated interest. It should also list the acceptable methods of payment, payment due dates, and considerations for late payments, like late fees.

Utilities and other costs

A rental agreement also needs to lay out utility service and billing details. This section should include which utilities the lease includes, which utilities the lease does not include, and instructions for setting up any utility accounts and payments. Some rental properties include the costs of utilities – water, gas, electricity, internet, sewer services, garbage and recycling services, etc. – in the cost of rent. Others expect tenants to manage these costs on their own.

Repairs and maintenance

Take the time to carefully understand the repairs and maintenance section of the lease. Not understanding this section could result in a lot of headaches, not to mention real money and time costs. Make sure that you clearly know who pays for what and who arranges the scheduling and labor for any needed work.

Many, but not all, rental agreements require the landlord or property manager to handle all repairs and maintenance. This means the landlord assesses the need, chooses the service provider, schedules the work, and arranges the payment for parts and labor. The type of repair or maintenance does not matter, whether you need to fix a broken appliance or unclog a drain.

Other leases contractually obligate the tenant to handle repairs and maintenance on their own. These kinds of arrangements can include partial responsibility or full responsibility. For example, the tenant may need to manage all issues except for repairs or maintenance to furnishings and appliances provided by the property.  In other situations, the renter may carry full responsibility for all costs and scheduling.

Community rules and guidelines

Lease agreements also ought to describe the community rules and property guidelines. For example, how the tenant may use the premises, the maximum occupancy, quiet hours, overnight guests, parking, storage, smoking, landlord right of entry and entry notice, access hours and notice for maintenance and repairs, property alterations, absences, subleases, and eviction. This list does not include all the potential rules or guidelines, so make sure to read any rental agreement thoroughly.

Lease termination or lease break details

If you think you may need to break your lease agreement early, then you should carefully understand what you need to do before moving out. Items to note include required advanced notice, lease break fees or costs, whether you must clean or make any repairs, etc. In some cases, you may also hold some responsibility for helping to find a replacement tenant.

Other common lease details

Once you sign on the dotted line, the contract carries legal weight. Many lease details come at the landlord’s discretion. With that in mind, renters need to take the appropriate precautions to understand and read a lease before signing or paying for anything. This post explains some common lease details to know, but this list does not cover everything. Plan to do a little research on your own to help find other common lease items, including how to check the general condition of the rental property, how to check appliances and fixtures for an pre-existing damage or maintenance needs, and more.