Rental Agreement Signing: 15 Things You Should Know About

rental agreement signing

Renting a new apartment can be an exciting time. It can also be a stressful one so it is important to make sure that you have done your due diligence when it comes time to sign your rental agreement. The rental agreement is a contract between you and the landlord, the person renting the property to you, and it is meant to cover all the physical items, rights, policies, or expectations that are associated with renting that property.

Since many people do not spend as much time reading this contract as they should, or do not know what to look for, we have reviewed here some major things to pay attention to before signing this important document.

What To Do before Signing Your Rental Agreement

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There are a number of things a future renter should do before signing their rental agreement, not least of which is physically examining the property. This may seem fairly obvious, but examining the property together with the landlord is the first step to handling any problems with the property, possible renovations, areas that are not clear, or specific issues like common areas or outdoor spaces. Physically reviewing the property allows you to request that certain issues like renovations are resolved before you rent the property or, at the very least, that language pertaining to these issues is included in the rental agreement.

The period before signing your rental agreement is also a time to make sure that you are fully prepared to enter into a binding contract and that you are able to fulfill your end of the bargain. Contracts of this nature nearly always include a duration of the lease, 12 months, for example, so you need to make sure that you are ready to commit to a 12-month lease, and that you can afford it. Any doubts you have about the property should be resolved before you sign your rental agreement. This is also a good time to meet the neighbors and establish a positive rapport with your landlord or their representative.

Questions To Ask A Potential Landlord

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A smart thing to do before you sign your rental agreement is to come up with a list of question to ask the landlord or their representative. These questions will vary based on your specific situation and the specifics of the property.

If the landlord mentions in passing that pets are allowed, what kind of pets? He or she may allow dogs, but are we talking about a lapdog or a Great Dane? This is a good chance to ask about any weight or breed specifications in the lease.

You notice that there is a dent in the wall of the apartment. Is the landlord going to fix that before you move in? At the very least, the presence of any defects in the property should be noted before you sign the agreement.

In reality, the questions that might be asked by a prospective renter are too numerous to list. These questions depend on your specific situation. Some common questions that renters commonly ask before they sign a rental agreement include:

  • When is the rent due and what are acceptable forms of payment?
  • In what situations would a security deposit be withheld?
  • Am I allowed to have roommates or to sublet?
  • Am I required to maintain (i.e. clean or mow) common areas or outdoor areas?
  • What happens when my lease is up—is there a chance that my rent will magically increase?
  • What is included in the monthly rent?

This is merely a short list of some important questions that renters should consider asking before they sign their agreement. We all understand that sometimes you’re in a rush to sign an agreement and move in. Maybe the place is great and you don’t want someone else to swoop in and nab it, but you need to protect yourself. Asking the right questions before you sign an agreement is the first step to doing that.

15 Things To Look For Before Signing A Rental Agreement

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Some things you should look for in your rental agreement will be covered in the questions you have asked your future landlord (or should have asked). This is not a case of being redundant, but of making sure that critical aspects of renting a property have actually been stated in the agreement. This is not only to make sure that you and the landlord are on the same page but to protect you should any disagreement arise or if you decide to move.

When you surveyed the property, you should have noted any issues. These are important to keep in mind when going over the agreement. What follows is a list of 15 things you should look for before signing a rental agreement.

Read The Contract In Its Entirety

This may sound like a no-brainer, but many renters make the mistake of assuming that things they discussed with the landlord will be in the agreement, or that they understand the terms of the agreement without actually having read the document. To protect yourself and spare yourself any potential headaches in the future make sure you read the rental agreement in its entirety, and we don’t mean speed read it in two minutes either.

Understanding The Rent

This was mentioned in the questions you should ask the landlord. It is important that you and the landlord are on the same page in terms of how much the rent is, when it is due, and how you are expected to pay it (check, online, cash, etc.). All of this should be clearly stated in the agreement.

What Is Included In The Rent

Some rental properties may include some amenities in the rent, like cable, access to a common area, like a roof deck or a park and the like. Make sure all of that is mentioned in the agreement.

Utilities

Utilities are a biggie. Many of you may have lived in cities where the utilities may cost nearly as much monthly as the rent. Make sure that you understand what is covered by rent and what is not, also whether the utilities are already set up by the landlord or if you are required to get things turned on. Are you paying the water bill or is he or she?

Rental Property Policies

The landlord may have said that your komodo dragon is okay to stay in the apartment, but does it actually say that in the rental agreement? Make sure that any policies of the property are clearly stated in the agreement and match what the landlord may have told you.

Pets

Pets are another big issue. Many renters have them and properties vary in their policy on pets. The agreement should clearly state what breed or species of pet is allowed, whether there are any weight requirements, how much extra a pet deposit or monthly pet fee will be, etc. In reality, if you have a pet or are planning on getting one, you should read this area thoroughly.

Renewal Process

Many leases have a 12-month period of the lease. Although the period may vary depending on the property, it is important that you understand what will happen at the end of that period. Can you renew? Will it renew automatically? Is there a chance that your rent might go up? Also, make sure to ask if your lease will be shortened if you choose to not renew.

Renter's Insurance

Renter's insurance is always a good idea. Is this included in the rent or do you have to pay for it? Renter's insurance doesn't only cover your own belongings. Many times it can help cover the costs that a landlord might pass onto you if you are found responsible for something such as fire damage to the unit.

Security Deposits

Security deposits are important because most people want these back when they move, especially if they took good care of the property. Make sure any policies regarding security deposits are clearly stated in the agreement.

It can be particularly useful to look for reviews of the potential landlord. Some less reputable landlords claim to give back security deposits in the contracts, but never return the deposits in practice. These unscrupulous landlords will claim normal wear and tear as excessive damage to avoid returning the deposit.

Heating And Air Conditioning Units

AC units may not be important if your apartment already has one, or if you are renting an entire property, like a house, but if you live in a high-rise, these may be an issue. Some properties prohibit items jutting outside of windows so make sure you read and understand this part of the agreement.  

Additionally, if you rent an older single-family home, the heating unit could pose problems.  If your new rental has oil heat, and you turn on the heat without knowing that no oil is left, you run the risk of potential damage to the heater. Check to see if you would be on the hook for replacing appliances in situations like these.  You will also want to estimate costs for heating the home in winter prior to signing the lease to be sure that it will fit within your budget.

Roommates

It is common to have roommates. It is even common to sublet properties. Although you may have discussed this with the landlord, make sure any policies in these regards are clearly stated in the agreement before planning for these types of arrangements.

Common Areas And Outdoor Spaces

Some properties may come with common areas, like gardens or pools, or outdoor spaces like yards and terraces. Make sure that any expectations regarding these areas are clear in the agreement. If there is a yard that you will be expected to maintain, find out if a lawnmower and weed whacker will be provided or if you will be expected to buy your own. If you are expected to buy your own lawnmower, is there a shed or storage area that you will be able to store your mower away from the elements?

Renovations

Maybe during your walk-through of the property, you notice that a new paint job is needed, or the landlord promised to bring in a new fridge. Make sure that if the landlord has not already addressed these promises that they are mentioned in the agreement.

Apartments That Are Furnished

Some apartments are furnished. If the one that is, make sure that any furnishings there at the time you rent are clearly listed and described. This will save you any headaches later when (or if) you decide to move. After moving in, it can be helpful to take detailed pictures of any damage present on the furniture for your records.  You don't want to be held financially responsible for items that were damaged prior to you moving in.

Ask Questions

Yes, we talked about this one, but it is important that all issues are perfectly clear before you sign that rental agreement. Make sure anything you have discussed with the landlord is in the rental agreement. This is your last chance!

Conclusion

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Renting a new place does not have to be a hassle. This is an opportunity to turn your life in a positive direction by getting a fresh start somewhere else. You are turning a new leaf, but you want to make sure you’re not turning to the wrong page. Making sure you have asked questions and carefully read the rental agreement will ensure that you are taking a step in the right direction with your new home.  

If the rental agreement seems to not match what the landlord claims and the landlord resists changing the agreement to match their promises, it might be best to pass on the property and find a different option. It can be frustrating to pass on what seems like the perfect apartment, but the last thing you want is to be stuck renting from an untrustworthy landlord for the next year. Do yourself a favor, make sure it's in writing. Walk away if it's not.

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