What To Look For Before Signing A Lease? Tips & Checklist:

  • By: Peter Parker
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Signing the lease is one of the essential steps of renting a home.

The lease document contains crucial information about the property, rent, security deposit, and other fees, responsibilities of the tenant, responsibilities of the landlord, and legal remedies if any of the parties do not follow the lease. 

Once you sign the document, you have to follow all the rules and regulations mentioned in the lease till the lease expires.

The lease document also plays a critical role in resolving landlord-tenant disputes. Tenants have to be very cautious before signing the lease.

Here is what to look for before signing the lease to protect your interests and ensure that the landlord is not taking advantage of you. 

What To Look For Before Signing A Lease?

1. Lease term:

The lease term is the duration for which the lease will be effective.

The lease term can vary from 6 months to a few years.

You are bound to follow all the rules and regulations of the lease term for the entire duration of the lease so it is important to check the lease term before signing the document.

Check whether the lease term is flexible and what are the conditions to break the lease. 

2. Rent:

Rent is a major expense when renting a house. Check all the inclusions and exclusions from the rent amount.

Note what utilities are included in the rent and what are to be paid extra.

Do not forget to ask about the charges for amenities such as parking, pool charges, garden maintenance, etc. All these charges add up to the rent.

Also, check what are the modes of rent payment and other key points like,

  • What are the deadlines for paying rent?
  • Is there any grace period available?
  • What are the late fees and penalties? 

3. Security deposit:

A majority of landlords collect security deposits from their tenants. The deposit amount is returned back when the lease ends and you move out of the rental property.

The lease document contains crucial information, Like;

  • The amount of the security deposit,
  • How it will be collected,
  • Where the landlord will park the fund,
  • What is the interest payable on the security deposit,
  • What are deductions the landlord can make from the security deposit,
  • When the deposit will be returned? 

4. Tenant and landlord responsibilities:

The division of tenant and landlord responsibilities in house maintenance is one critical topic that creates most landlord-tenant disputes.

The lease document clearly specifies the duties and responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant.

You must read these carefully to know your responsibilities and rights as a tenant. 

5. Emergency maintenance requests:

The landlord has to solve emergency maintenance repairs within a reasonable time. Check what the lease document says on this issue.

  • Does the landlord’s insurance cover emergency maintenance?
  • Does the landlord provide access to engineers and tradesmen to address emergency repairs?
  • What are considered emergency repairs? 

6. Pet policy:

If you have pets, this is one of the critical issues to look for in the lease agreement.

  • What types of pets are allowed?
  • How many pets are allowed?
  • Are there any additional fees for pets?
  • What are the general rules and regulations about pets?
  • Does the landlord charge additional security deposits or maintenance charges for pets? 

7. Guest policy:

Some landlords do not allow guests to stay overnight while others mention specific time periods for which guests are allowed to stay.

You have to read and take note of the guest policy in the lease to avoid costly penalties and disputes with the landlord at a later date.

The lease document will mention points like

  • How many guests are allowed to stay?
  • What are the additional fees or charges for bringing guests?
  • For how much duration the guests are allowed to stay?
  • Dos and don’ts for guests and other important information and rules for guests. 

8. The notice period for vacating the house:

Landlords require tenants to give notice before vacating the property even when the lease term gets over.

The notice period varies from one to three months, depending on the state and local housing laws.

Before signing the lease, it is crucial to look for the notice term to avoid losing your security deposit or paying hefty fines. 

9. Terms for breaking the lease early:

While none of us plan to break the lease and vacate the property, there may be certain circumstances that may compel you to break the lease.

The penalties for breaking the lease are very hefty and sometimes you may be required to forfeit your deposit or pay the rent due for the entire lease period.

It is significant to look for the terms of breaking the lease early and the process of breaking the lease. 

10. Renewal process:

Few landlords demand prior notice from the tenant even for renewal of the lease. If you do not give the notice, the landlord will start searching for new tenants to replace you after the lease ends.

The landlord may not remind you about the notice period if it is clearly mentioned in the lease. It is important to check the notice period and the process of renewal.

You will also get information about what will be the security deposit after renewal. Will the rent be increased and by what percent and what are the terms for renewal? 

11. Dos and don’ts for home improvements:

All of us would like to customize the house by decorating it according to our tastes and preferences. However, most landlords do not like tenants to make changes to the house without their permission.

To safeguard your security deposit and to maintain good relations with the landlord, it is essential to know the dos and don’ts for personalization and home improvement.

  • What types of decorations are allowed?
  • Can you hang pictures and shelves?
  • Can you change the wallpaper or paint the walls?
  • If you paint the walls, do you have to change them to their original color when vacating? 

12. Rules on subletting:

It is helpful if you can sublet the property when you are away from the house for an extended period of time as you can save the rent and maintenance expenses.

While some landlords permit tenants to sublet the property, others may prohibit it and some may allow subletting with prior permission.

If the lease document does not mention subletting, you have to ask the landlord or the property manager about the rules for subletting. 

13. Renters insurance:

Renter’s insurance protects your belongings from damage and theft.

Some landlords make it compulsory for tenants to buy renters insurance. Check the lease to know whether renters insurance is mandatory or optional. 

14. Furniture and appliances provided by the landlord:

The lease will contain the list of furniture and appliances provided by the landlord. Match the list with the appliances and furniture in the apartment and note down their condition.

Take photographs wherever possible. Notify the landlord if the furniture or appliances are damaged, broken, or need to be replaced. 

15. Use of premises:

The lease contains specifications about the use of the property.

You can know whether the property is only for residential purposes or you can run an at-home business from the premises.

Some landlords mention in the lease that tenants need prior permission to start a business, in such scenarios opening a business without permission can lead to court cases and unnecessary disputes.

It is advisable to read the lease closely and understand what is the permitted use of the premises. 

It is extremely important to examine the lease and ask questions to protect your interests as a tenant.

Studying the document carefully will help you to understand the fine print and find any possible loopholes that deny your rights as a tenant.

Once you sign the lease, it is difficult to argue against the landlord for the things that you agreed to by signing the lease. 

Take your time and go through the lease closely, ask questions if there are points that you do not understand, and discuss making any changes for points you do not agree on. 

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