Six Tips for Reading Your Lease

As exciting as it might be to sign a lease on your first apartment, actually understanding everything that’s in your lease can be a total headache. A lease is a legally-binding agreement, usually written in legal language that can be overwhelming to read. You might be tempted to skip some of this “legalese” and just get right to signing on the dotted line, but this approach can be a costly mistake. It’s important to pay close attention for potentially-illegal clauses and any other conditions in the lease that give you pause. Heed these six tips for reading your lease to ensure a fair, comprehensive agreement. 

1. Make sure all landlord and management contact info is included

When you look at your lease, you’ll want to make sure that the contact info for your landlord or property manager is included. At the top of your lease, you should see your landlord’s name, address, and phone number. Not only does this tell you where to direct any maintenance requests or other issues, but it also instructs third parties on how to reach your landlord if you ever have to take them to court.

2. Be certain your rent is stated clearly

If your apartment was listed for rent at a certain price, make sure that’s the price you see in your lease – some landlords or property managers may attempt to stealthily raise the price in a lease agreement. Check that the day of the month on which rent is due is clearly stated, as is the date past which rent is considered late and any penalty for late rent.

You should also make sure the lease states the amount you’re required to deposit upon signing the lease. Often, this amount includes your first month’s rent, last month’s rent, and a security deposit of equal value. The lease should also list the bank at which your landlord is holding your security deposit, and it should state that you can ask your landlord to update you on the interest the deposit is earning. 

3. Check that utility responsibilities are properly divided

Did the listing for your apartment say that the landlord pays the water and sewage bill? Make sure the lease expressly states this. Although it’s common for landlords to cover water bills and require that tenants be responsible for electricity, gas, heating, and internet bills, not every landlord divides utilities this way. Make sure that whatever agreement you have with the landlord is written into the lease before it’s signed by both parties.

4. Verify other important restrictions

If your apartment was advertised as pet-friendly, verify the inclusion of a pet clause in the lease. Check for clauses detailing how many people can live in the unit, whether subletters are allowed, how many nights guests can stay with you, what rights you have to modify the apartment, and how maintenance responsibilities are divided (to understand a fair division of maintenance responsibilities, read this guide).

5. Know your property and privacy rights

Landlords have keys to your apartment, so they can technically enter at any time. Many leases will include a clause requiring landlords to give at least 24 hours notice in the event of a non-emergency visit, and you should make sure this wording is included in your lease. Likewise, since you’re storing your property in an apartment that someone else owns, check your lease for rules about what happens to any property you leave behind if you move out.

6. Find illegal clauses and demand their removal

Not nearly every lease will contain illegal clauses, but it’s nevertheless important that you find any illegal clauses and demand their removal before you sign your lease. Although some clauses are only illegal in certain states, this comprehensive guide to illegal clauses in Wisconsin offers good pointers no matter where you live.

Do you have any tips of your own for reading your lease? Leave them in the comments!

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