9 Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease

Friday, July 29, 2016

For renters, the process of finding a great apartment can be a challenge, especially with the rising rents and competitive rental market. Once you’ve located the perfect rental that fits your budget, it can be tempting to sign on the dotted line, committing to a year-long lease without reading the fine print. However, before you enter into a binding contract, here are ten essential questions to ask – courtesy of RENTCafé.

#1. How often will the rent increase?

Before signing, make sure you know beforehand what you can actually afford. The traditional way to determine an acceptable monthly rent for your income is to limit it to about 30% of your gross pay.

#2. How much do utilities average each month?

If utilities aren’t included in your rent, ask for a heating disclosure for the location. If your prospective landlord wants to rent the property, he can easily get that information for you.

#3. What if I need to break my lease?

This information should be spelled out in the fine print on your lease, but make sure you clarify the terms of canceling before signing. You’ll likely be required to give sufficient notice, as well as paying rent for a designated period. Some properties do not have a cancellation provision and require a new tenant to be signed up before your lease can be terminated. Ask about these options as it is important to understand them and the costs associated with each.

#4. What happens at the end of my lease term?

When the term of your lease is up, it’s important to know what to expect. How far in advance will you be required to sign a new lease or provide notice of non-renewal? In either case, you should also know what you’ll need to do if you opt to leave at the end of your term.

#5. What is the policy for visitors?

What about pets? Everyone occasionally has guests over, whether those visitors stay overnight or for only a few hours. Ask for the policy on having friends and family drop by. Is there a limit to the length of their stay? Is parking available for them? What about pets? Will you be able to accommodate your best friend’s Beagle when she’s out of town?

#6. How are emergency repairs handled?

Something will eventually break and when it does, you’ll need to know help will be available. Ask for the procedure on requesting repairs, whether there’s an online work order submittal system, as well as the turnaround on such a request.

#7. Can I change the décor?

Property owners often have restrictions on the changes tenants can make to a property. You may not be able to paint or change your flooring, but you’ll likely be able to make small changes, such as hanging photos or adding hooks for your bathroom towels. Clarify this up front.

#8. Is the area safe?

You may not be able to get a direct answer on this from your landlord, but you should determine if the area is safe before signing. You can check crime statistics on the area through sites like Neighborhood Scout.

#9. How do I pay rent each month?

Rent payment procedures vary dramatically from location to location. You’ll need to know if payment can be taken from your account via bank draft each month or you’ll need to make payment on your own, either through a website or mobile app, or by personal check.