Understanding an Housing Lease Agreement

Personal Finance
a man signs housing lease paperwork

Finding your dream apartment is exciting! You’re eager to claim the place for yourself before someone snatches it from under you, so you want to sign the housing lease agreement right away.

Taking the time to review your lease can prevent you from future misunderstands at best, or financial losses at worst. Once you sign on the dotted line, you’re stuck with that apartment for a year. Who knows what terms you’re agreeing to? Examine your lease before agreeing to anything and look out for these common features.

Basic Aspects of a Housing Lease

  • Duration of Housing Lease
    A typical lease agreement will bind you to an apartment or rental home for six to twelve months. During that time, you (and any roommates) are responsible for paying rent on time. If you’re sharing your apartment
  • Rent
    Keep track of when rent is due and familiarize yourself with the late payment policy. You should also know how you can pay rent. Most management companies allow you to have rent automatically withdrawn from your bank account, while some smaller managers require you to pay with a check or cash.
  • Occupants
    Be sure to list all occupants on the lease. Having an unlisted roommate sublease from you violates almost all lease agreements, leaving you open to fines or even eviction.
  • Security and Pet Deposits
    A security deposit may be as low as a $100-$200 dollars or equivalent to one month’s rent. As long as your apartment is in good shape before you move out, you’ll get all or most of your security deposit back. On the other hand, pet deposits are non-refundable.
  • Maintenance and Repairs
    Chances are, you’ll put in a work request at some point. Be aware of what the landlord will fix for you. For example, maintenance will take care of termites in your rental home but not roaches.

Common Conditions and Restrictions

  • Community Rules
    If you’re living in a large apartment community, there will likely be community regulations. Included within the rules are the fees for breaking them. Many apartment communities have designated quiet hours and some even have strict visiting hours.
  • Pet Restrictions
    Some properties won’t allow animals at all. Rentals that do allow pets usually have limitations in place. For the most part, cats are apartment friendly. Dog-owners will have more difficulty; breed and weight limits can keep you from your ideal apartment.
  • Decoration Restrictions
    This varies by management. Some will allow you to do whatever you want to your apartment, as long as it returns to its original state upon moving out. Others will fine you for hanging pictures from nails.
  • Additional Fees
    Be on the lookout for any additional fees mentioned in your housing lease. Some landlords will pay for your utility bill for an additional fee. In addition to a pet deposit, you might have a pet fee tacked onto your monthly rent. And if you decide on an apartment community with a lot of extra features, you may have to pay an amenities fee. After hour lock-out fees, noise complaint fees, and key replacements all add up.

Remember: There are no stupid questions.

If anything on your lease agreement is confusing or vague, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Your lease may not say anything about painting your apartment, but management will have an answer for you. Knowing the little details about your home for the next year is not only essential: it’s your right. You may be tempted to sign the housing lease on that gorgeous downtown apartment as soon as possible, but a suspicious lease can be a deal-breaker.

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