4: Make Your Housing Plan — I Want to Rent

Common Lease Terms

A lease is an agreement between you and the property owner. It is made in good faith, meaning that no one intends on harming the other party. But the lease also is a contractual agreement. Before you jump into any agreement, it’s important to take a close look at it and understand what you are signing.

Remember to carefully review the terms of the lease so you know what you are on the hook for financially. You also will want to inventory the leased property before you move in by walking through the property with the landlord to note any deficiencies prior to moving in. And, always get the agreement or modifications to the agreement in writing.

Get to Know Lease Terms

If you are unsure of a term or clause in a lease, ask the landlord to define what it means. Don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t let your landlord gloss over it. Don’t be embarrassed to take your time, call someone for help or do an Internet search for words and phrases that you don’t understand. Among other items, look for these common clauses in your lease agreement.

  • This is the complete list of all adults occupying the rented unit. It’s important to the landlord, in particular, who can collect the full rent from any individual listed. The landlord also can terminate the lease if one person listed violates a term of the lease. 
  • This should be the exact amount due, when, grace periods (if any), how and where payment should be made, and fees for late payments. 
  • This is the number of months being rented. This should be very specific and should outline what happens once this length of time passes. For example, does a one-year lease become a month-to-month rental after a certain point? Does the amount for the rental increase? The lease also should specify when the terms can be changed. 
  • It should be specified whether deposits are refundable or not, and under what conditions. Your lease or rental agreement also should specify how the deposit will be refunded and the time frame in which it will take place.
  • This section should identify all utilities you will need to pay, outside of the rent.
  • This clause should specify exactly when and under what conditions the landlord can enter the premises being rented. State laws regulate this, so get to know what is permissible in your state. 
  • Get a detailed list of major repairs (that the landlord will be responsible to fix) and minor repairs (that the renter will fix) and how/when to notify the landlord that something needs maintenance or repair. Remember that each party has certain responsibilities in this arrangement. 
  • The lease probably will stipulate that only the adults on the agreement (and their children) may occupy the premises. Also look for information regarding pets, including types, numbers and additional fees for them.
  • Some agreements will list restrictions on disruptive or illegal behavior, information on subletting, what common areas are available for use, parking arrangements, etc. Lease and rental agreements can vary by state, so be sure you know what is applicable to your particular case.
  • And, ask what the landlord’s insurance covers in terms of property damage from unexpected events such as fire or broken pipes.

SAM tips

Do an Internet search for sample leases to see what a typical lease might look like.

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