How To Evaluate a Lease Agreement

You have just found the perfect apartment after weeks of searching.  The location is great, you have your own parking space, you have great views of the city, the landlord seems nice, and the rent price is acceptable.  Now, what about the terms of rent? When you go to sign a lease here are the things that you should look out for and the information that should be present in the lease document.

  1. Term of lease.  How long do you plan on staying at the apartment?  You and the landlord should set start and end dates for the lease.  Typically leases last one year, although sometimes tenants and landlords will agree on a "Tenancy At Will," meaning the tenant can choose to stay month by month, usually with the provision that he/she will give sixty or ninety days notice.
  2. Rent and taxes.  Make sure it is stipulated in the lease that your rent cannot go up during the duration of lease if the landlord's taxes go up.  The amount you agreed upon per month should remain consistent.  Know when rent is due and what, if any, penalty there is for tardiness.
  3. Smoking or non-smoking.  Be sure to clarify with you landlord the policy on smoking, both for you and guests.  If it is a non-smoking building your landlord will likely put this in the lease.  If this is the case be sure to respect his/her wishes, as you could be held responsible for damage caused by smoke and potentially any fire-related issues that develop. 
  4. Pets.  If your new landlord said it was okay for you to bring your cat with you, make sure this is added in the lease.  Usually there is a paragraph in the lease concerning pets where this can be inserted. If there is not, make sure it is added in an addendum so that you are protected. Usually a landlord will reserve the right to remove the animal (and you) if the pet becomes destructive to the property.
  5. Repairs. The lease should indicate the process by which repairs are made in the apartment.  A contact name should be provided to the tenant in case of emergency.  Typically the landlord is the contact number, but landlords often have property managers who deal with issues that arise over the course of a lease.  The tenant should be careful to understand the implications of attempting repairs on his/her own, but should also be aware that a landlord that does not fix an unhealthy or dangerous situation may be held liable if a problem arises.
  6. Landlord's right of removal/eviction.  In most leases there will be a paragraph describing the right of the landlord to evict the tenant in the case of non-payment of rent or destruction of property.  If a lease does not have this, then it is not as binding a lease as it should be (for the landlord).
  7. Other provisions.  If you and the landlord discussed any additional provisions, make sure they make it onto the lease. If it is forbidden to play music loudly after 10pm, it will likely be added to the "additional provisions" or "addendum" to the lease.  Likewise, if you are allowed to barbeque off your deck make sure you have your agent, or whoever is drafting the lease, add this detail into the lease.
  8. Lead Law.  The lease is not legitimate if it does not discuss the Tenant Lead Laws.  The landlord, by law, must furnish you with a Tenant Lead Law informational sheet(s) explaining the potential hazards of lead.  There is a sheet called the Tenant Certification Form, where the landlord indicates if he/she knows if his/her apartment has lead in it.  By law, all the landlord has to do is disclose that he/she does or does not know about the lead content in his/her apartment.  If he/she knows conclusively (he/she had it tested), by law, he/she must furnish you with the proof.  The tenant must initial this sheet indicating he/she has read the documents and understands the status (or non-status) of the apartment with regards to lead.  If the lease does not have this information in it, be wary.  It is the law.
  9. Rental receipt.  Have the agent or landlord print out a receipt indicating the amounts you have paid towards your apartment.  Typically you will pay first and last month's rent upon signing the lease, however, it varies. Have the landlord sign this part of the lease indicating he/she acknowledges receipt of the funds.
  10. Signatures.  A lease is not binding until both parties sign.  Keep a copy for your files. 


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