Understanding Your Lease Obligations

Our site has a new friend who is a professional real estate consultant. She has agreed to share her tips on navigating the terms on your lease.

Signing on the dotted line… What your lease really means
By Lori Snider, Principal, Creativity for Rent and Marketing Expert

Congratulations! Your search was successful and you’ve found an apartment that fits your needs perfectly. Now it is time to sign the lease.

The lease is a binding contract between you and the apartment owner/manager. It might be a one page agreement, or 15 with addendums, and can appear, at first glance, to be pretty intimidating. Keep the following tips in mind as you navigate the lease paperwork.

1. First, plan a time, before your actual moving day, when you can sit down with the management company/landlord to review the lease paperwork together. Completing the paperwork while your rental truck, (filled with the friends you bribed to help you move), is parked outside will likely result in you rushing through and signing a document you don’t fully understand. Take the time when you have the time. Move-in day is busy enough. All you should have to do that day is pick up the keys and pay your rent.

2. Understand your lease term and lease break obligations. Your lease will clearly state start and end dates. Generally this time frame will be 6 to 12 months, but leases of any length are not uncommon. The day your lease ends is the day, that if you give notice, the management company will expect you to leave. You are responsible for the apartment rent for the term of the contract. If, for example, your roommate runs off with her boyfriend and you decide to break your lease 2 months before it expires, you both are still responsible for the rent until the day another renter is accepted and takes possession of the unit. Even then, many companies charge a lease break fee that can be up to 3 months rent, in addition to other charges. If you feel uncomfortable signing a one year agreement, ask the management company to provide you with a 9 or 10 month lease. Depending on market conditions, they may be flexible in this regard. That way, if you think you may relocate for a job or other reasons, you will be able to fulfill your obligation. Also understand that regardless of how compelling or heart wrenching your reasoning for breaking your lease, most companies/landlords will not just let you out.

3. Make sure you understand how much notice you need to give if you intend on moving at the end of your lease. Most professional companies require a 30 to 60 day written notice of your intent to move. Casually mentioning to the management company/landlord that you will be leaving has resulted in many a surprised resident when they learn they are responsible for the rent for an additional 30 days beyond the day they turn in keys. Written notice is documented. Verbal notice is not. The management company, when notified of intent to vacate in writing, will commence to lease your apartment within 5 to 7 days after you move out. This gives them time to clean and make repairs and ensures the apartment is vacant (and not making any money) for the shortest amount of time. Many a renter have been burned by telling an incompetent manager they are moving, and assuming the manager would document it. Don’t get stuck. Pick up a pen and give notice. Good management companies will notify you 60 to 90 days before your lease expires with renewal options and rates.

4. Additional Charges. Make sure you understand charges incurred for lost keys or remotes, after hours lock out service, and late rent payment. Your rent will most likely be due on the first of the month. Some companies provide a grace period of two to three days. This does not mean your rent is due on the third. It is due on the first. Pay it on the first or risk late charges. Your lease will clearly explain what those charges will be.

5. Do not minimize the importance of renter’s insurance. When you reside in an apartment, you are generally in close proximity to other people. While you may consider yourself to be an extremely responsible person, others in your building may not be. If there is a fire or a flood or other damaging occurrence, remember this: The owner/management company is responsible to replace the walls, carpet, fixtures, etc. You are responsible for your things. All of them. If your plasma TV is destroyed by smoke from a fire in an upstairs apartment, you are responsible for it. That is why it is important to purchase a renter’s insurance policy. It will cost approximately $10 to $20 per month and should an unforeseen event occur, your things will be covered. You probably have more stuff than you think you do and it would be very expensive to replace it all. You will most likely be required to initial that you understand this risk, and many landlords now require that you provide proof of insurance to them.

6. Do not hesitate to ask questions regarding provisions of the lease you don’t understand. A well trained professional will thoroughly explain lease provisions and ensure you have a sound understanding of your obligation to the agreement.

You can contact Lori at lori@creativityforrent.com.

Author My First Apartment

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