Questions a tenant should ask before signing a lease

Signing a Lease? Ask These Questions Before You Move In

Are you the type of person who enjoys reading lengthy contracts? I’m willing to bet the answer to that question is “NO”. Agreeing to a serious contract without first reading the fine print, however, could put you in a sticky situation. There are many factors at play when deciding on leasing a property. When you’re responsible for maintaining physical property that’s not yours, you better know what’s at stake. Besides, just because your landlord is running a background check on you doesn’t mean you can’t ask him or her a few questions in return. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind before signing your name on the dotted line.

Understanding lease length

Before you begin looking for a new rental, it’s important to know how long you plan to live in the desired location.  There are two types of leases, fixed-term or month-to-month. Fixed-term leases require the tenant to fulfill the contract for a specified amount of time. Sometimes it’s as low as 3-months and other times it’s as high as 18-months or 2 years. Some condo and apartment complexes encourage renters to sign longer fixed-term contracts by offering reduced monthly rent.  Furthermore, if the renters intend to leave before the contract’s end, they’ll likely incur a hefty fee to break the lease.

Where fixed-term contracts lock in renters, month-to-month contracts offer better flexibility. However, where month-to-month rentals require less commitment, they typically cost more to maintain and landlords may choose to incrementally increase rent over consecutive months.

Does the landlord allow renters to sublease?

Let’s say, for instance, you moved into an apartment with a one-year fixed-term lease and during that first year you receive a job offer of a lifetime in a different city that is too far away for commuting. Let’s also assume that the company that has hired you doesn’t offer you a relocation package, forcing you to pay the fee to break your lease. It’s a bittersweet position to find yourself in, but don’t lose hope quite yet. Some landlords will allow you to essentially “replace” yourself, but that responsibility is yours, not theirs. Subleasing is fantastic because sometimes it can get you out of a bind and save you from having to pay the fee to break the lease.

Ask about pro-rating

This question is rather simple, but if asked and agreed upon, can save you a good chunk of change. Pro-rating involves only charging a percentage of the monthly rent relative to the amount of time you actually lived in the place for that same month. So, if you moved in on the 15th, you should only be charged about 50% of that month’s rent.

How are maintenance requests handled?

Many major apartment and condo complexes have procedures in place on how maintenance requests of renters will be handled. Many of those complexes even have full time personnel on their staff who take care of all maintenance and emergency issues. As a tenant of a standalone unit or home it is very important to ask the landlord how maintenance and repair issues will be handled and in what time frame. Sometimes the landlord will expect you as a tenant to contact a repair service directly. In other cases, the landlord will contact the repair company themselves. Either way, find out ahead of time how maintenance requests will be handled.

Another question you might want to ask your landlord is if and when regular inspections will be conducted? Personal privacy is a sensitive matter and you probably don’t want someone barging in unexpectedly.

Utilities: who pays what? What about deposits?

Utilities are expensive. Gas, electricity, cable, water and garbage disposal costs all add up. Ask your landlord about the diffusion of payment responsibilities. Besides utilities, association fees are quite common. Buildings with pools, workout facilities and business centers all come with added costs. Are these fees included in your rent or do you have to pay them as part of your monthly association fees?

When signing a lease you are usually required to put down a deposit. Deposits serve as upfront insurance policies for property managers and will usually be returned to you after you move out and you have left the rental unit in good condition. Unless you have a dishonest landlord or absolutely obliterated the property, getting this deposit money back shouldn’t be an issue. Assumptions aside, always find out the deposit return policy.

Inquire about move-in details

Before hiring Boston’s best moving company to move you into your new home, know what you need to take care of before walking in the front door with all your gear in tow. Many landlords require insurance policies but can sometimes skim over whether or not you’ve submitted or transferred yours. Some large complexes have rules on what time of the day moving in and out is actually allowed. Another important thing to find out before moving day arrives is to make sure that all the utilities have been transferred and turned on. The last thing you want to find out while you are moving is that the electricity has not been turned on!

Renting a new apartment or house can be a very exciting time in someone’s life, but before signing the lease, please make sure you know what responsibilities you have as a tenant and what you can expect from your landlord. This will prevent many common “renter problems” in the future.

Author Bio: Mark Healey writes about moving, home improvement and DIY projects. Sometimes he writes about other things, too.


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