You’ve found a great apartment and you were approved to rent it, now you just have to sign the lease; but don’t be fooled, this isn’t the easy part.
Singing a rental lease agreement is a serious financial commitment and you need to completely understand what you’re agreeing to by singing a rental lease agreement. I’ve compiled a list of questions you should be sure to ask before you sign on the dotted line. This week I’m giving you the basics. Next week in Part II, I’ll go over some of the more nitty gritty details to be on the lookout for when signing a lease.
- How much is rent?
- When is rent due?
- Where is rent due? Some apartment lease agreements stipulate rent payments be made in hand, others allow rent payments to be mailed and some even allow renters to pay online. My advice: try to avoid direct withdrawal. Apartments might take extra money from your account on accident. I lived in a unit that preferred direct withdrawal so I created a checking account solely for my rent. I transferred the exact amount of rent into it every month. I was overdrawn twice, and made the management company pay for the overdraft fees both times.
- When is a rent payment considered late and what is the late fee?
- How much is the security deposit?
- What do you need to do to get your full security deposit back? I’ve had landlords flat-out tell me I will not get my entire security deposit back no matter what I do. Landlords may use a portion of your security deposit to clean and repair your apartment before the next tenant moves in. Be wary of a property management company or landlord that says you can paint your apartment and requires a security deposit, they will probably dock your security deposit any repainting costs when you move out.
- When is the security deposit returned? Be sure to find out how soon after you move out your security deposit will be returned. Some landlords and property management companies offer you the option of using your security deposit to pay for the last month and half’s rent.
- Are there any other deposits like a pet deposit? Check how much an additional deposit is and, in the case of a pet deposit, can you get it back if you no longer have your pet?
- What utilities does rent include? There is a huge range on what utilities a tenant is responsible for and what the building will cover. You may be on the hook for everything from water to garbage services to heat. Be sure to know what specific utilities you are responsible for.
- What are the average costs of utilities for your unit? If your apartment is more than two years old the landlord or property management company should have an idea of what your utility costs should average.
- What utility companies can you use?
- Can you sublease a bedroom or entire apartment to renters not on the lease?
- Can you add roommates to your apartment without their name appearing on the lease?
- What is the policy on adding or removing someone from the lease?
Understanding Your Apartment Lease Part II will cover more questions to ask about your lease like moving in, costs of amenities, Act of God coverage and more.
The biggest thing for me when I moved out of my apartment last year was getting back my security deposit. When I first gave my security deposit at the beginning of the lease a friend told me that I would “never see that money again.” This must have been true for my friend in her past, but I was proactive about asking what the security deposit was used for before I gave it. Then when it came time to move out I made sure to clean the apartment and make it look how it did when I moved in as well as making sure to return all the keys. Basically I gave the landlord no excuse to not give me MY money back. In the end I got my security deposit back in full. I wouldn’t always bet on getting the full amount back especially if you inflict legitmate damage on the apartment, but it definitely is possible if you are diligent.
Have you or your previous roommates ever forgotten to bring your check book when signing the lease and writing the security deposit? That could be embarrassing…
How did you get the management company to cover the cost of the over draft fees?!? Brilliant. Can the lease specify multiple checks in case your and your roomate(s) want to pay separately? Just asking.
Great advice on the direct withdrawal complications. I would also ask whether or not the landlord will accept multiple checks from all roommates, or whether they need to submit only one check. In that case, the roommates have to plan ahead a few days before rent is due to make sure someone can cover the full amount. I’m looking forward to your second post on this topic!
I also encountered a security deposit problem. When the time came to be reimbursed by my landlord, I was informed that some of my roommates had missed rent payments, and this was going to decrease the amount of money returned to me. It shouldn’t be your responsibility, but it is important to make sure that your roommates are paying their share of the rent.
Great post! A couple close relatives are real estate professionals and they tell me to ask the exact same questions. I’d be curious to know what an average bill would be for the various utilities so I can know whether I’m getting ripped off or not. Future post?
Good checklist of what it takes to rent an apartment.