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Understanding Your Lease

Leasing agents working on behalf of multifamily housing developers are so accustomed to signing deals with veteran renters these days that when it comes time to sign the lease, you're often just directed to the line that waits for your signature. After all, who wants to read all of that fine print? You've been through the process before. Do you really have to take out your magnifying glass and analyze the text line by line?

Sorry, folks. Yes, you do. Just because you've signed a lease before doesn't mean that they're all alike. You owe it to yourself to look out for your best interests. So take that lease home and read it before you sign it. And don't give in to high-pressure tactics that the apartment "will be gone tomorrow" if you don't sign on the dotted line now. If that's really true, then park yourself in the corner of the office and read the lease thoroughly before agreeing to anything. But by all means, don't sign instantly without reading about your half of the bargain. You may stand to lose more than you gain.

As a renter, you're living on common property and sharing much of your living space with strangers. You're also agreeing to submit to whatever rules have been set forth by the development company or the landlord, in the case of smaller properties. To a certain extent (depending upon the lease), you're submitting a portion of your autonomy over to a stranger, who has written rules which may or may not be in your best interest. Why wouldn't you want to read those rules before you agree to follow them? What renters so often forget is that regardless of whether or not they read those terms printed on the lease before they signed it, those rules are binding once the tenant signs the document. Ignorance doesn't work as a defense.

If you take issue with any of the terms written into the lease, you're more than welcome to attempt a negotiation, although the odds of your being successful are questionable, particularly if you're working with a large apartment developer. You have nothing to lose by trying, however. If you'd like to request an amendment to your lease, draw a line through the phrase that you'd like to change, and clearly make the desired correction. Both you and your landlord or leasing agent must place your initials beside the amendment for this change to be considered binding.

The following areas of your lease could contain red flags, so you'll want to pay especially close attention to these sections:

  • If your landlord/leasing agent has made verbal promises to you pending your agreement to sign the lease (for example, a free washer and dryer included; one free month's residency, etc.), are those promises in writing and included in the lease? If not, you're going to have little recourse if your landlord or management company doesn't abide by them.

  • Read the section in your lease that discusses who is responsible for repairs to your unit. If the lease states that your landlord/management company isn't responsible for any repairs whatsoever, be wary. In general, you should be held liable for any repairs that are needed inside your unit and occur as a result of your own actions (spilling Kool-Aid on the carpet, breaking your window after your friend threw a ball in the living room, etc.). But an air conditioner lacking freon, a broken dishwasher and other problems occurring through no fault of your own should be repaired at the landlord/management company's expense.

  • If you spot any clauses in the lease which state that tenants are responsible for various "rules," are those rules printed on the lease and made official in writing? If they're not, the landlord could attempt to surprise you later. Your landlord could, in fact, may just be reserving the right to draw up "rules" at some point in the future.

  • Does the lease contain a clause that states you, the tenant, will forego your right to trial by a jury of your peers? If the lease contains no such clause, does it state who will pay for your landlord's/management company's attorneys' fees should you decide to sue for any reason?

In an accompanying piece, we'll review several more red flags of which you should be aware before you commit to the terms set forth in a lease. Needless to say, your lease may contain more potential pitfalls than you've ever considered, which sheds light on the importance of reading everything and fully comprehending the agreement in which you're about to enter.

Submitted by:

Dan The Roommate Man

Since 1989 Dan The Roommate Man has helpe 1000's people find roommates. Need help? Contact him at 800-487-8050 or www.roommateexpress.com

info@roommateexpress.com





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