Don't Sign a Lease Before Doing These 9 Things
Finding a new home is a whirlwind of excitement. From adding new furniture to your shopping cart to scouring interior design websites for inspiration, it’s easy to get caught up in the romance of creating a new home, but there are a few crucial things to consider before you sign on the dotted line. Keep scrolling to discover the nine things every renter should do before signing a lease.
Before you commit to a lease, consider the logistics. If you’ve opted for a space in the suburbs, map your commute to work each day. Transportation costs might seem insignificant at the time, but when you tally the costs, you might find it makes more financial sense to live in a central area. If you have a car, inquire about parking costs. Also check out visitor parking in the area if you expect to have regular guests.
Take time of day into consideration before you sign a lease. A ton of environmental factors change throughout the day, and it’s difficult to make a decision about your new home from a brief viewing. If you’re serious about the rental and aren’t familiar with the area, drop by in the early morning and at night to gauge the neighborhood. Loud morning traffic or a poorly lit street should carry weight when making a decision.
Take a look at the apartment with discerning eyes. Focus on small details that might escape you during an initial visit. Consider aspects like where heating is positioned, the number of power outlets in each room, and the quality of fixtures.
It’s also important to check contractual details. Lauren Boston of the National Apartment Association recommends checking the rules and associated fees for ending your lease, even if you have no intention of breaking it early. Another common aspect she says renters forget to check is subletting rules. “One hot topic right now is home sharing through sites such as Airbnb,” she tells MyDomaine. “It’s very important for prospective renters to read and fully understand all lease terms regarding authorized versus unauthorized guests. Generally speaking, subletting is illegal in most apartment communities, and home sharing through Airbnb falls under that umbrella. Doing so could result in eviction.”
Just as your landlord will run a background check before approving a lease, it’s a good idea to research your new landlord. Boston recommends checking if a landlord or owner belongs to a network with best-practice guidelines. Local forums can also provide valuable information, and local tenant rights groups are a good resource. It might also be worthwhile to ask your landlord how closely he or she is based and if there’s an on-call contact. If your bathroom floods or you get locked out at night, you’ll be grateful for a building manager based within close range.
It can be difficult to get a real feel for a neighborhood before you’ve lived there. During an inspection, keep an eye out for neighbors touring the space to gauge what other residents are like. Talking to the local barista is also be a handy way to discreetly find out about the area. Speak to the landlord about community rules, too. Many apartments have a document outlining what’s expected of residents and could detail crucial information about visitors, quiet hours, or pet restrictions.
Minor wear and tear is normal, but Boston says it’s still worth documenting any damage before you move in. “In particular, renters should check for large carpet stains, deep scratches in the hardwood floor, damage to the walls, and broken or malfunctioning appliances,” she says. If you do notice damage after you’ve signed the lease, be sure to put it in writing. “Take pictures and ask the property manager to document accordingly. Otherwise, you could be charged for the damage or lose the security deposit when you move out,” she cautions.
Sure, building inclusions like a state-of-the-art gym sound enticing, but if they push the price of an apartment beyond your means, they might be worth reconsidering. Ask for a breakdown of all rental costs, and confirm if utilities are included in the base rent or paid separately. “The trend is moving toward the latter,” says Boston, so be sure to build that into your budget. On top of application and amenity fees, she also says pet owners should make an extra inquiry. “Ask about associated fees, as well as breed and size restrictions. It’s not uncommon for an apartment community to charge a one-time pet fee, cleaning fee, and/or monthly pet rent,” she says.
Part of the fun of moving into a new space is making it your own, but don’t assume you’ll be allowed to make changes. Some apartments have stringent rules about painting rooms or securing picture frames on the wall. “Paint policies are often overlooked,” says Boston. She notes that some apartments will allow it if you promise to repaint the room when you move out, while others have a strict no paint policy. “It’s important to understand what you’re permitted to do. Otherwise, renters risk losing their security deposit or being charged additional move-out fees,” she says.
Use the rental checklist below to make sure you’re making the best decision. When you’ve ticked off the tasks, sign the lease, pick up the keys, and say hello to your new home!
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What do you wish you’d known before signing your first lease? Tell us in the comments below.