4 Things To Look Out For In A Lease Agreement

By Amanda Cohen on April 24, 2019

When it comes to signing a lease, whether it be for an apartment, a house, a store-front, a kiosk, or any of the sort, it’s important that you are vigilant and read over the documentation carefully. People so often are screwed over because they didn’t read “the fine print” and it ends up causing them a lot of money that could have been used for just about anything else.

I’m not saying that people who write up the leasing documents are intentionally trying to cost you more most, but people look out for themselves; therefore, if adding fine print to the leasing agreement will earn them some extra cash but mess with your life, I guarantee they aren’t thinking twice about it. To ensure that you aren’t put in a compromised position, you could hire a lawyer or ask a family member, a friend, or colleague to read it over for you, but that can cost money and it spends up valuable time in which someone else could sweep in and take over the space that you so desperately wanted to occupy.

That’s where I come in. I am doing the research of what to look out for when reading/signing a lease so that you don’t have to. I may not be a lawyer, but I promise that this article will help any of you who don’t know what to look for in a lease agreement (this isn’t a bad thing if you don’t know… I didn’t know until I did my own research). So, read on… it may save you a buck or two.

Infographic by Amanda Cohen

Termination Policy

I know you don’t want to think about moving anywhere else or leaving a specified space the minute you are moving in, but it’s important to look at what the landlord’s and/or property manager’s termination policy is. A termination policy goes both ways meaning that you can terminate your lease by moving out after the months you are in said building or your landlord will terminate your lease if you don’t renew and give your space to a new tenant.

It might be easier to explain this with a scenario. Let’s say your lease agreement is good for 12 months. Your contract will specify a date in which you must decide to either renew your lease or not: let’s say the renewal date is 6 months in. If you don’t renew your lease by month six, your landlord has the option to lease out your apartment for the following 12 months once you vacate the premises. Make sure that the renewal deciding date works for you; it’s not too early on that can’t make an informed decision about whether or not you want to renew your lease, but it’s also not so late in that you don’t have time to search for a new place.

A termination policy may also include information about what would happen if you needed to move out early. If you have a bi-coastal job, a loved one who is sick elsewhere, or just an unpredictable life, make sure that the termination policy in this regard works for you. Most landlords won’t budge on this issue meaning that if you sign a 12-month lease, you are contractually obligated to pay all 12 months of rent. However, you could try to negotiate some sort of clause that, if some sort of unforeseen circumstance occurs, you get a reduced rent rate for the last months of your lease, or that you can sublet your space to another person who essentially takes over the lease (this will be further covered in another part of the article). All in all, make sure that the termination policy works for you and don’t be afraid to negotiate your terms if it doesn’t.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/hand-pen-filler-fountain-pen-376212/

Subletting Policy

I remember finding a sub-tenant for my college apartment was a pain in the you-know-what. However, I was able to do it, but I needed to work with my apartment leasing office because I didn’t fully understand the terms of the subletting policy outlined in my contract for my apartment that I signed a year prior to my move-in date. I’m not going to delve into my specific subletting policy, but here are some things that you must look out for even if you don’t think you’re going to have to sublet your apartment.

First, if you are allowed to sublet or not: some buildings don’t even allow current tenants to sublet their apartment. If you think that you can just sublet “under the table,” I strongly advise against that because if you get caught, you are in breach of your contract and will probably have to pay your apartment’s management office a fee. Plus, if you sublet under the table, your new tenant won’t be able to order packages to the building nor receive updates from the leasing office.

Second, some buildings have different terms in regards to what it means to have a subtenant. Some buildings have you completely sign over your lease to the new tenant. This means that you are giving up your rights to the lease and your subtenant essentially becomes a new tenant for the building. Another potential way subletting may work with your building is that you become the new occupant’s landlord. In this scenario, you are still responsible to put in any work orders, address updates, and relay move-in and move-out to your tenant, not the building’s property manager.

You can sometimes discuss with your building’s management office that your tenant can receive packages in their name and report apartment issues via. e-mail instead of you, but this all depends on your building’s flexibility, their occupancy, and how much the building manager and his/her staff can handle. Sometimes, subletting terms can be negotiated before you sign your move-in contract, but make sure you discuss these issues early on in the move-in process, even if you don’t think that subletting will apply to you because, like I said before, you never know what life will throw at you!

Image via. https://pixabay.com/photos/contract-consultation-office-408216/

Maintenance Responsibilities

The best way I can illustrate this important part of a lease agreement is by comparing how my maintenance responsibilities are handled in my apartment vs. how my sister’s apartment has to handle maintenance responsibilities. My apartment is a rental apartment. This means that, when something is broken in my unit, I submit a work request and someone from the live-in superintendent’s team comes to fix it for me.

For example, my air conditioning broke and my apartment’s maintenance team fixed it without me having to go pay for someone who doesn’t work for my apartment building. Another situation is my sister’s building. My sister lives in a condo, which means that she leases from the owner of her apartment unit, she doesn’t rent directly from her building. Even though she has a live-in superintendent that can help with minor issues in the apartment, if something big happens, for example when her washing machine broke, she had to contact her unit owner who helped put her in touch with someone who didn’t work for the building to fix/replace her washing machine for her.

If you are moving into an apartment that has my situation, you don’t really need to stress about the maintenance responsibilities in your contract. However, if you’re in my sister’s situation, you have to ask the property manager and/or landlord a few questions: (1) is there a live-in superintendent? (2) if something breaks, will I (you) be responsible for the maintenance costs or will the landlord (apartment owner whom you are leasing from) be responsible for the cost? (3) has everything been checked to make sure everything is working properly prior to my (your) move-in date? (4) are appliances standard throughout every unit, or does it differ since this is a condominium building and not a rental building? (5) what is a detailed list of the appliances that are in the unit and are there instruction manuals throughout the apartment that show how to work and fix these appliances?

Now, regardless of what your apartment situation is, here are some potential things that might have to be done throughout your apartment: (1) changing the filters in the AC/heating units, (2) cleaning the carpets, (3) taking out the recycling from the trash room, (4) fixing/replacing broken AC/heating units, washing machines, dryers, plumbing, faucets, and dishwashers, (5) fixing temperature control in the refrigerator and freezer, and (6) fixing locks and bolts on the doors.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/photos/tools-diy-do-it-yourself-hammer-498202/

Pet Policy

Most people think that an apartment’s pet policy only has to do with whether or not you can have a pet in the building, however it goes so far beyond that. If you have allergies, or if you want a certain pet, you must look into these rules closely. If you have allergies, you will want to make sure that your lease agreement has a strict pet policy.

For example, certain floods or building don’t allow pets, so maybe that’s the floor for you. However, if your apartment allows any sort of pet, you might want to look for a different place to live. However, if you have or want a pet in the future, you want to ensure that your building’s pet policy is flexible. If the building says that it allows pets, make sure that the definition of a pet is outlined in the lease agreement. For example, some buildings don’t allow dogs over a certain size. You want to ask how this is regulated and you want to make sure that your pet (or future pet) will fit within these guidelines.

Another thing to consider is if your lease agreement outlines a fee for having a pet. Some buildings charge an extra few hundred bucks if you have a pet within your living space, but other buildings don’t. If your lease agreement doesn’t specifically say that there is a fee, refer back to it if your building tries to get you to pay extra money in the future.

Back to allergies, if your lease agreement has a strict pet policy, but you see someone in the building with a pet of any kind and it is negatively affecting your quality of life (i.e. allergies or keeping you up at night), talk to your building manager about it and explain that you aren’t spending “x” amount of dollars to live in a living situation that doesn’t positively affect your life. If you don’t have a pet now, but might in the future, make sure you talk about your pet policy right away and have something outlined in your current lease agreement to prevent back-and-forth negotiations in the future.

Image via. https://pixabay.com/photos/pug-dog-pet-animal-puppy-cute-801826/

Well, there you have it! There is no need to go into your lease signing without being prepared. Between this article, further Google research, and maybe even talking to a trusted adult or lawyer to review your lease will 99.99% ensure that your lease agreement doesn’t screw you over now nor ever in the future. If there are other minute details not talked about in this article, don’t be afraid to ask the leasing office and property manager about it.

Ask all your questions before you put pen to paper because, once the document is signed, everything is official and there is no turning back. Take your time when reading the document and read everything over multiple times so that you don’t miss a thing. Other things to look out for in a lease are (1) late fees, (2) guest policy, (3) carpet cleaning, (4) renters insurance, (5) roommate policy, (6) flexing (adding a wall) policy, (7) rent payment method, (8) referral bonuses, (9) utilities (payment and what’s included), (10) wall painting and hanging policy, (11) security deposit information, and (12) building construction or construction nearby that will affect my time in the apartment/be disruptive.

If certain items aren’t outlined in the lease, but you want them included in the lease, ask them to add it so that all your bases are covered. Now, keep hunting for your new home and get ready to start this new chapter of your life as prepared as possible!

I am currently a junior at the University of Michigan.

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