Your Rental Agreement
If you’ve finally found the place you want to call home, a place that both your needs and your wants, and you’ve checked absolutely everything for potential problems, you might be ready to pay the rent and pick up the key. But there are still some things to keep in mind.
The last big consideration here is your rental agreement or lease. You need to read, agree, and honor it completely. It’s a contract. It spells out what the obligations are for both you and your landlord. It is in your best interest to make sure you thoroughly understand the document.
The time to request changes to a rental document is before you sign it and assume responsibility for its terms. As you read the lease or rental agreement, take note of any modifications you wish to make. If the landlord agrees to your requests, make sure the necessary changes are made on the document and that the landlord initials each change and signs and dates the modified version in ink. Make sure you get a copy.
If you wish to accept the terms of the document only if certain conditions are met by the landlord, make sure you get the exact conditions in writing with a date and the signature of the landlord or manager.
Make sure you are clear about what will occur if you breach or break the document. For instance, if you sign a 12-month lease, but your employer transfers you to another state after 7-months, what will be your financial obligation to your landlord? Can you sublease the unit?
Take your time and read the document carefully. All rental documents are not the same. Ask questions and refuse to be rushed into signing. Make sure you understand the terms regarding the following:
The Monthly Rent
You are obligating yourself to pay the agreed-upon amount of rent for the agreed-upon amount of time. Find out exactly how your payments are to be made. For instance, where is the payment to be mailed? What day is it due? Are there additional fees involved if you are late? By how many days?
Term of the Tenancy
The length of time you and the landlord agree to be obligated to the rental document is called “the term of tenancy.” A rental document is either a fixed-term lease or a rental agreement. Rental agreements may run for several months or run month-to-month and self-renew unless terminated by either party. Leases are usually for one year. When the lease expires, either party can decline to renew it, or it continues on a month-to-month basis.
Security Deposit and Other Fees
In addition to the rent, you will almost always need to make a security deposit. This is money that will be held by the landlord to offset any damages made to the property while you are living there. Make sure you understand the conditions for getting your deposit back when you eventually move out.
This is why documenting the condition of the unit before you move in is important. Is any portion of your security deposit nonrefundable? Will a cleaning charge be deducted from your deposit when you vacate the unit? How and when will your deposit be returned? There may be other fees involved with your lease. Are you required to make an additional deposit for your pet?
Repairs and Maintenance
You will be required to keep your unit clean and sanitary and will be held responsible if you damage the Property by abuse or neglect. It is your responsibility to inform the landlord of any defective and dangerous conditions to the property. It is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the premises in livable condition.
As you can imagine, this can be subject to interpretation. The landlord is not legally responsible for strictly cosmetic-type repairs. Of course, you can request the yellowing wallpaper be replaced, but the request may be denied. Find out what kind of repairs or alterations you are allowed to do yourself.
Most property owners understand the importance of keeping their property in good shape and appreciate being alerted to a potentially serious problem. Make sure your rental document outlines how repairs will be addressed.
Special Rules or Restrictions
Being well-informed on the rules and restrictions relating to your unit can save a lot of misunderstandings. If you are renting a condo, the rules are called the CCRs. These codes, covenants, and restrictions spell out very clearly what is acceptable and what is not. The same may apply to the terms of your rental document.
There may be a clause relating to disruptive behavior. There may be a restriction on the length of time a houseguest can stay with you. Understand the restrictions before you agree to adhere to them.
Vacating the Property
What does the rental document require of you when its time to move on? How much notice do you need to give? Will you be required to allow the unit to be shown to prospective tenants when you are not present? When you move out, you may want to do a “walk through” with the landlord and also document the condition of the unit by photographs or video to make sure no misunderstandings arise regarding the condition of the property.
When you sign a lease or rental agreement, you are entering into a legal contract, but the agreement itself must be legal. This means that it must comply with all relevant laws. Laws and ordinances exist to protect the rights of both the property owners and the tenants. Learn what your rights are with regard to your landlord entering your unit. This can be a flashpoint if both parties are not aware of the law. A good rental document is thorough and clearly outlines the responsibilities of all persons involved.
A good rental document is fair to all parties. For instance, you should probably avoid signing a rental contract that states you “agree to pay all costs for court proceedings brought forth by either party.” Use your common sense and get everything spelled out as clearly as possible, right down to the use of nails for hanging pictures.
Do not hesitate to try to negotiate the terms of your rental document. It is better than trying to live with conditions you find objectionable.
Often, the only way it’s financially possible to move away from home and live on your own is to live with a roommate, or perhaps several. You still must be responsible and meet all your obligations, but sharing expenses may make the dream of being independent financially possible.
If you went to college, you might be familiar with the experience and challenge of having an arbitrarily-assigned roommate. When renting a unit, however, you should choose your roommate carefully. While it helps if you and your roommate have similar lifestyles, even the oddest matched couple can survive together if they thoughtfully make and honor a mutual agreement. Having a written agreement to pull out when sticky situations arise can be in both your best interests.
There will be differences. Differences between people who live together are a way of life. Yet the differences do not have to be a problem. Having an agreement worked out ahead of time will help head off issues before they become big problems. Work on the agreement together, keeping equality in mind.
Are both of your names on the lease? One person being responsible for the terms of the lease and the other being able to walk away at any time is a problematic arrangement. How are you going to split utilities? Consider a policy on all aspects of living together, such as the cleaning, mutual expenses, guests, food, and even quiet time. Keep in mind you must always honor the agreement and that it isn’t necessary to be close friends with someone to get along with him or her.