Whether you’re looking for your first apartment or simply moving to a new neighborhood, there are many factors to keep in mind before signing a legally-binding agreement. As apartment ads usually only provide basic information, here are 20 other important questions to ask before signing an apartment lease.
Apartment leases typically last for one year—however, apartment landlords may offer longer leases for lower monthly rents or shorter, monthly leases for a higher monthly rent. There may also be restrictions on which items you can keep in your unit, like candles or grills. Remember that rental lease agreements are legally binding, lengthy, and full of legal jargon, so read the contract in full and ask the property manager clarifying questions when necessary.
During your lease term, you may need to find a roommate or decide to move in with your partner. Whether you think this will affect you during the contracted term or not, it’s a good idea to ask how to go about it. If a roommate is leaving and there’s no intention of replacing them, they’re still responsible for their share of the rent or it must be split between you and any remaining cohabiters. If you’re adding a roommate to your lease during your term, the individual may need to be approved by the apartment before move-in. Some landlords don’t allow additional residents until the lease term is up and ready for renewal.
Some apartment landlords do allow tenants to sublease their apartment—this information can likely be found in your lease agreement. Rules on subletting can vary, and you may face complications from breaking a lease, like early termination fees, needing to find a new tenant to take over your lease, or paying the remainder of your agreed-upon rent. If you foresee potentially needing to sublet your apartment, it’s best to ask about their policy upfront.
The terms for breaking an apartment lease can vary depending on your situation. Leaving your contract without a forewarning can lead to lawsuits and steep fees, so it’s best to discuss with your landlord or apartment complex ahead of time what the early termination policy is. With a valid reason, like moving for an out-of-state job, you may be able to negotiate terms for ending your lease early. Additionally, there are some instances where you can legally break your lease without penalty, such as if your safety is at risk or you’re active military.
This is one of the only ways to break an apartment lease without incurring dues from breaking the legal contract. However, it’s only usable if you’re living in a unit genuinely unfit for human habitability due to the apartment management’s neglect. Unsuitable living conditions may refer to faulty electric systems, cracked or crumbling entryway stairs, hidden or untreated black mold, pest infestations, or other unsanitary living conditions. Be sure to research your state’s tenant laws and how they define unsuitable living conditions, and seek legal counsel from a landlord-tenant attorney or rental attorney.
If you don’t plan to renew your lease at the end of your lease term, most apartments require a written termination notice in advance. Most landlords require a 30 or 60-day notice to allow them enough time to find a new tenant. If you don’t give the required notice, your lease could automatically renew or you could lose your refundable security deposit.
Because it’s a legal contract, you’ll need to consider what to do when your lease expires. Typically, a lease renewal notice is sent out 90 days before your lease term is up and provides directions for re-signing, including updated rental rates should you renew your lease. The lease renewal notice may even include complimentary gifts, or an offer to upgrade the unit with the re-sign. It’s best to read over your initial lease terms a few months before, as the management company may forget to provide notice. It’s helpful to know your apartment’s renewal process when signing your lease so you can plan ahead and avoid issues down the road.
Many apartment communities and landlords require tenants to provide proof of renters insurance coverage before the lease can be finalized. One question to ask your property manager is how much coverage is needed for the policy. Even if renters insurance isn’t required, it may be worth the investment to protect your belongings and rental property from unforeseen events such as fires, flooding, or burglary.
Whether you’re renting from a commercial management team or private landlord, you’ll want a solid understanding of what to do when an apartment emergency happens—and when you’re responsible for the costs. Ask the property manager about their emergency maintenance resources and policies before signing a lease. Many commercial apartments have an after-hours emergency line that you can call. But you may be responsible for calling and paying your own plumber, electrician, or some other professional if it’s outside of typical business hours or you rent from a private landlord.
If the unit needs to be renovated while you’re living in it to fix damage caused by a natural disaster or other uncontrollable situation, it’s important to understand if you’re responsible for temporary housing, repairing structural damage, and more. Depending on the reason for the remodel, your landlord or renters insurance will cover the costs. Be sure you’re comfortable with your apartment’s policy on temporary housing should your unit undergo emergency construction. Supplement this with additional policies in your renters insurance.
You may want to paint the walls a different color, use stick-on contact paper on your countertops, or mount things on your walls, but your landlord has some say about what you’re allowed to do. Putting your own personal touch on an apartment can end up costing your security deposit, but in some cases property managers will allow it as long as you can leave the unit as you found it. If you’re not allowed to make changes, there are renter friendly decor options you can utilize.
Before you’ve signed your lease, it’s important to know when you’re considered responsible for damage—more specifically, you’ll need a clearer idea of what constitutes damage versus natural wear-and-tear. Your lease has addendums for pests, pets, natural disasters, and more, which outline when you’re responsible for repair costs. If the damage is something you have control over—such as painting the walls an unapproved color or a pet leaving scratch marks on doors, repairs will be covered by your security deposit or charged on your final rent bill. Damages from situations outside of your control, such as break-ins or severe weather destruction, may be covered by the apartment company or by your renters insurance policy.
The security deposit you used to reserve your unit until your lease signing is also a designated fund for any damages you may incur during your term. When you move out, make sure there are no damages beyond normal wear and tear to ensure you receive the security deposit back in full. Even if you receive a lease renewal notice, read your current apartment lease to see if getting your security deposit back is contingent on anything—like shampooing the apartment, fixing small nail holes, replacing drip pans, and more.
Most rental agreements call for rent to be paid the same day every month, in advance, or on the first day of the month—if you move in during the middle of the month, prorated rent may be charged at the time of move-in. As a renter, you’re responsible for making payments on time, though some apartment landlords offer tenants a grace period for missed or late payments. However, you risk accruing late fees, charges, or even eviction if payment is not made within that time frame.
When signing an apartment lease, you’ll want to ask your landlord or leasing agent what the terms are for late rent payments. Some apartments may offer grace periods of three to five days, and sometimes longer, to allow tenants to pay rent. After that, a percentage of the rent is typically added as a late fee. Knowing this information ahead of time can help you avoid being penalized down the road.
Apartment complexes typically offer tenants several ways to pay their rent—many have online portals but still accept payment via check, money order, or cash. It’s even becoming more common for landlords to accept rent payments via apps like Zelle, PayPal, or Venmo. Make sure to speak with your apartment landlord to see what payment options are available.
While some apartments have all utilities included in the rent, other places may charge extra for utilities such as gas, electric, or trash. Though the cost is in addition to rent, some apartments will have preferred providers for things like internet and cable, allowing you to take advantage of a discounted rate. Speak with the management office or review your lease agreement before signing to note which utility bills you’re responsible for, and obtain necessary apartment information for registering.
Apartment complexes can vary greatly in which amenities they offer their residents. You should know at this point which important apartment amenities are included—like if you have an in-unit washer/dryer or if your floor has a communal pay-per-load laundry room—but this is the time to ensure you know which amenities you need to pay extra for each month.
An apartment amenity that varies between properties, parking is something you need to ask about before signing your lease. Some management properties provide unassigned spaces in parking lots near each complex, with leaseable detached garages nearby. Others have attached garages or covered, indoor, underground, heated, or assigned parking lot spaces for free or rent. Ask about free vs. paid parking options for your complex—inquire if there are lease terms for each option, and if you can begin renting parking at any time during your lease term or if it has to be determined at the time of signing. Understanding these options and what you’ve chosen can help you budget for your monthly dues.
At this point in your apartment hunting process, you should know if the apartment management company allows pets and if yours are qualified—especially if you have a special case. Before signing your lease, be sure you’re clear on what your pet dues will be at move-in, as well as what you’ll be responsible for each month. Most apartment complexes require a non-refundable pet deposit (to be used after you move out), as well as a one-time pet fee to approve your animal’s presence on the property—and finally, monthly pet rent. It’s at this point you should present your Emotional Support Animal or Service Animal paperwork so that you can be excused from paying certain dues, according to your state’s laws.
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