A rental lease is no different from a legal bidding contract in that you (the future tenant) have every right to negotiate with the landlord before signing any lease document. Keep in mind that after the ink on the leasing contract is dry, neither the tenant nor landlord has no power over suggesting changes in the contract.
Here are 12 questions to ask your future landlord before signing any leases.
Note: nobody has to negotiate with you. They hold all the cards here, but negotiating lease terms is always a good idea. If you try and you fail, you only end up where you started, so you have nothing to lose and something to gain!
1. How long is the lease?
A usual lease is twelve months, but there are other types of short-term leases, such as month-to-month, a trimester, or six months. Ask about the penalties for breaking the lease if you suddenly need to move out. Our recommendation is to actually read the entire contract before signing, and to get legal representation if possible.
2. What utilities are included?
Including certain utilities in the monthly payments varies between landlords. Some include heat and hot water, others include more, others include none. That is why it is recommended to find out which utilities are you responsible for, and if there are additional fees to parking, storage, or maintenance. Know what you're getting into up front.
3. Is my pet allowed in the unit?
If you own pets or are considering having one, remember to ask about the pet policy. We wouldn't recommend asking "theoretically, in case you want a pet in the future," to cover you in case you end up having to sneak your cat in, but that's a pretty good idea if you're unsure.
Again, it's best to know what you're getting into. If you're going to need someone to watch your pet for a while, or if your pup is allowed, you'll want to know either way so you can act accordingly. Sometimes there are even additional fees or separate pet deposits, which is also negotiable.
Service animals are a different story. If you have the right documentation, landlords should know that they aren't allowed to turn you away for your service animal. It doesn't mater what the landlord says, your service animal can live with you despite any restrictions set by the owner's of the property. You're not obligated to hand over the pet's certification, but some landlords might ask-- some management companies even require they keep the licensing for your pet on file.
Keep in mind that service animals are immune from any kind of fee, like "pet rent," but damage caused by the pet within the unit is something you must be responsible for.
4. How and when pay the rent?
Ask when is rent due, and the preferable method of payment. It is important to know where to send a check or deposit. Also, wise tenants ask when is the payment considered to be late and the penalty fee if any, be aware that many states consider a payment to be late with 3 days overdue.
5. Is the security deposit refundable?
Your landlord should know that, by law, all security deposits are refundable. However, if the unit presents major damages after you move out, or if you break the lease, they might keep the deposit. Also, always take before and after photos of everything in the unit before you move any of your stuff in. That way, if your landlord tries to claim damages to keep the deposit (most will try), you will have proof in your favor.
6. Is there 24/7 maintenance in the building?
As a tenant, you'll want to know if your building has maintenance and on what schedule they operate.
7. Can I personalize the apartment?
In most cases, landlords expect you to leave the unit as-is. Read the contract and talk with your landlord before doing any renovations because they are happy to keep your security deposit AND that new coat of paint you did for them.
To simplify things, just keep in mind that your landlord really wants your security deposit and will look for every reason possible to keep it. If they make $300 profit on your unit every month, and your deposit was $2100, then do the math. They would get an extra seven months worth of rent profit from you if they keep the deposit.
They want your deposit.
8. Can the landlord enter my apartment at any time?
The lease should include details in which it states the landlords entering policy into the unit. Laws specify that landlords are required to send a notice of at least 24h to the tenant before approaching the apartment or residence.
9. Are locks changed and how often?
Stay aware of these details since, in some buildings, frequent tenant turnover is normal, and communal areas like garages or principal entrances should have the locks changed regularly for security purposes.
10. What is the guest policy?
Some landlords are not ok with long term visits, such as your parents visiting for a month. Subletting is sometimes an issue since LL's run background checks. It is worth having a discussion with the landlord before signing if you think it is something that might affect you.
11. Is there something else you will do to the apartment before I move in?
Make sure you visit the apartment prior to signing the lease. Previous tenants might leave the unit in bad conditions and the landlord is obligated to clean it, and have the appliances ready and functioning for you to use. Get everything in writing, you don't want to start claiming something that was promised but not properly delivered and not having back up to refer on. Also, remember to TAKE PICTURES.
12. What fees will I have to pay to get the apartment?
This is important. Normally, tenants are asked for first and last months, a security deposit equal to one month rent, and a broker fee equivalent to a one month rent (if there was any real estate agent with valid license involved in the process-- even if it was the LL's agent and not yours). Sometimes, if there is only one agent in the transaction, they will only charge a half-fee. If you're not using an agent, and see there is a broker fee, then try to negotiate it out or at least to half. If the LL won't cover the broker fee, they can at least ask the agent to cut the fee in half as most would.
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