6 Critical Questions to Ask Before You Sign a Lease

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Apartment hunting can be a stressful, which is why finally finding the right one and being able to put a pen to a lease feels so rewarding. It signals the end of a long, hard, and exhausting vetting process. But just because you think you found your dream place doesn’t mean the hard work is over. The minutes right before you sign your name are critical, and there are important questions to be asked before you do. The answers could make or break your experience, and be the difference between smooth sailing, or regular headaches for the next six or twelve months of your life (or more!) So before you let the ink flow, make sure you lock down these important details.

What are the Fees?

You were probably expecting a security deposit and hopefully know what the rent was going to be, but it’s important to figure out if there’s anything else you’ll be expected to pay for. Many apartments require application fees just to be considered or conduct background checks or credit checks that you might also have to pay for. Other buildings have elevator fees, maintenance fees, or fees for certain accommodations like doormen, pools, gardens, or walkway upkeep. Make sure you know what they are, and how much it’s going to cost you. Plenty of landlords and property managers like to hide fees like this in the fine print. Don’t forget to lock down the parking situation. Spaces can be quite pricey in the major cities, and the availability of which combined with the fee could influence your decision.

What’s the Rent Policy?

Most people rightfully assume that paying rent simply comes down to paying on time . . . which isn’t wrong, but there are other details to consider. Every landlord or property manager has their own rent policy, and it varies slightly depending on who you’re renting from. Some allow a grace period of a few days, while other expect the amount in full on the 1st of every month. Some might have you pay on a different agreed upon day. You should ask about late fees, when they occur, and how much they’d be. Also, figure out what the policy is if rent day falls on a weekend or a holiday. Don’t forget to determine the method of payment which could affect how you pay whether it be an envelope to the manager’s office, an online payment, or check in the mail.  

What Costs and Utilities are Included?

Plenty of apartments include the cost of utilities in the rent which can be ideal if you’re only ever required to pay a single sum that doesn’t change every month. But it also might not be if it’s overpriced, so do your research. It could be a boon if your area has cold winters that can run you hundreds on your heating bill. Ditto for an electricity bill which could skyrocket from AC use during the hot months. If no utilities are included, go ahead and ask what the average monthly costs normally work out to be. It’ll help you with budgeting in the long term. This is also a good time to figure out if you’ll have to contribute to costs like garbage pickup.

What’s the Maintenance Policy, and What Changes Can You Make to the Unit?

When and if something goes wrong, it’s important to know what the policy is. Who are you supposed to contact, how quickly can you expect repairs, and – more importantly – what repairs will you yourself be responsible for financially? You should also be clear on what changes or adjustments you’re allowed to make to the unit such as painting or wall mounting. The last thing you want to deal with is getting hit with friction from your landlord or a notice of lease violation because you installed a few wall shelves in your bedroom. You should also figure out what the right of entry is with your landlord or property manager; specifically when and under what circumstances will they be allowed in your space, and how much notice they are required to give you.

What’s the Lease Policy?

In addition to knowing the length of the lease that you’re signing, it’s also important to know both what would happen in if you broke it, and what happens when it ends. Some leases will stipulate that you’ll simply have to sacrifice your security deposit if you break your lease early and give appropriate notice while other leases will require you to pay off the remainder of the months in the lease even if you aren’t living there anymore. You should also know what to expect when you finish your lease. Some will automatically move to month to month, but others will require a new negotiation. Finally, find out if you’re allowed to sublet your apartment should you be gone for an amount of time, or if you need someone else to finish out your lease term.

Are There Hidden Deal Breakers?

It happens all too frequently. People sign leases for apartments that look perfect only to find out later that there’s some clause and requirement that they overlooked that would have been a deal breaker had they caught it. Read carefully before you sign to make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Examples could range anywhere from a hefty carpet cleaning fee that eats your security deposit upon your departure that your landlord conveniently forgot to mention, to being prohibited from being allowed to have overnight guests. That’s the kind of problem that would be exceedingly awkward and frustrating to explain to a girlfriend or boyfriend, so take your time and sign with care!