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Questions you should ask before signing a lease

Blank Lease Agreement on a clipboard with a decorative key on top

Moving into a new rental property is such an exciting process! Sure, it's also super time-consuming and can be pretty demanding, but finally settling in can bring so much joy. I recently made the move from my college house into a full-on adult apartment and I was giddy with anticipation! Anything that came my way from the apartment complex was immediately completed and returned, all the T's crossed and I's dotted - including the lease. It didn't dawn on me until after I had sent it back that I probably should have read it more thoroughly. Luckily, my lease outlined understandable guidelines and didn't have any weird rules or vague statements releasing the complex from responsibility.

Before signing a lease, make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Your lease is more than just a piece of paper with boring writing on it - it's a legally binding contract! Most leases are pretty straightforward, but once you sign it, you're locked in for the near future.

Here are nine important questions to ask your landlord or leasing office before signing the rental agreement.

  1. How long is the lease term?

    Most leases are a year long, but the timeline will occasionally change depending on the best rate or what's convenient for both you and the property owner. You may also want to consider asking what the penalties are for terminating a lease early. You probably aren't planning on breaking the agreement, but if you're offered a job in a different state or extenuating circumstances arise, it'll be handy information to remember.

  2. Are utilities included?

    Clarify which utilities you are responsible for and which are included in your rental agreement. The utilities included vary greatly depending on the owner and can dramatically alter your monthly rental fee if you're not prepared. Ask about utilities like water, electric, gas, internet, cable, and trash pickup before signing a lease.

  3. Do you allow pets?

    If you already have a pet or plan to get one soon, this will be an important question to ask. Most rental facilities offer some kind of accommodation for pets but may still require an extra monthly fee to protect against potential damages. Some apartment complexes will also have a specific list of pets that are allowed, detailing what kinds of dogs they do and don't allow on their premises.

    Service animals, however, are a different story. You may be entitled to special accommodation for your service animal; consult your legal representative to know your rights prior to initiating a discussion with your potential landlord.

  4. Where do I park my car?

    Some facilities offer free parking in a garage or car port and some require a fee to access the parking amenities. Be sure to clarify where you can park your car, if it's free, and how many cars are allowed per tenant on the property.

  5. When is rent due and how can I pay it?

    Rent is generally due on the first of the month, but you might want to clarify with the property owner to be sure. And is that rent taken in check form? Can you electronically transfer it? Ask before you move in to avoid any confusion or late fees in the future.

  6. Is the security deposit refundable?

    Couple looking at white wall with paint supplies around them

    The treatment of security deposits is typically regulated by law, but in general, security deposits are refundable as long as the property is in good condition when you move out. Your landlord may, however, be entitled to withhold part of your deposit for damages that were incurred during your stay or if you break the lease. As long as you keep the rented space in good condition, you should have nothing to worry about!

  7. What kind of maintenance services are available?

    Depending on whether or not you live in an apartment complex, you may have on-site property management that will fix any issues you may have. On-site management quickly swooped in and resolved an issue my sister had with her dryer after she realized that she had never emptied the lint tray. Of course, I would suggest that you regularly empty the tray (since it's a fire hazard), but property management will be there for those types of mishaps.

    If you're looking to rent somewhere without on-site management, it may be more difficult to get someone on the premises to fix issues that may arise. In this case, you may consider renting elsewhere. Try not to end up with an overflowing tub at two in the morning and no one to help!

  8. What kinds of amenities are provided? Are these complimentary?

    Amenities like a community center, pool, fitness center, washer and dryer, and storage space can add that extra bit of value to your rental property. Which are the most important to you? Some properties have laundry facilities in each specific apartment, while others can be accessed through the basement of the building. Make sure to clarify if these amenities are included with the rental fee or if there's an additional charge to access the spaces.

  9. In what ways can I personalize the property?

    If you plan on painting the walls or installing curtain rods or a wall TV mount, you may want to first discuss what kinds of customizations are acceptable and which are not allowed. My experience is that as long as you leave the property in the same condition as when you first entered, you should be good to go.

No matter what your landlord or leasing consultant says, make sure you read the entire lease. Yes, it will be time consuming, and no, it will not be particularly interesting, but it will make you well aware of the expectations the owner has for you as well as the things you can expect from your property owner.

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