Whether you’re a seasoned renter or this is your first rental, leases can be very confusing. In most cases, they contain several legal jargons that are difficult to read, thus leading to many questions.
With at least 37% of the population in the United States renting their residence, you’re certainly not alone.
If you happen to be among the renting population, you might need some assistance deciphering the lease before signing it.
In this article, we’ll look at the best way you can read your lease, and understand it, as far as real estate is concerned.
How to Read an Apartment Lease
Let’s focus on how you can read a real estate apartment lease:
What’s an Apartment Lease Agreement?
A lease is a contract that outlines the terms between a landlord and tenant.
Once the parties involved sign a lease agreement, it becomes legally binding.
Depending on where you rent, lease agreements can have different clauses, and they may even look different.
Fixed-Term Tenancy (Standard 12-Month Lease)
A fixed-term tenancy normally lasts for 12-14 months, or longer.
Here, the rental agreement involves agreeing to comply with the rules in the lease, for the specified time. It means that you’ll abide by community rules, pay monthly rent and pay pet fees.
The landlord may not change anything in the lease before it expires, but there are landlords who may allow you to break the lease early.
Periodic Tenancy (Month-to-Month Lease)
This type of lease is relevant for short term renters. The lease may be ended or changed, by either you or the landlord, after proper notice is submitted. In most cases, proper notice equates to 30 days.
What Does a Lease Agreement Look Like?
Most leases differ depending on your property management company or landlord. The information in the lease is typically in hard-to-decipher legal terms.
Let’s look at important things to pay attention to in a typical lease:
Premises and Parties
A lease must start with a premises and parties section. This part introduces the lease.
Under this section, you’ll find a space to write your name. If you have roommates or children, their names should be there too.
All occupants above 18 years of age must also sign the lease.
It would be a good idea if you went through this section keenly since it’s where the roles are established.
This section sometimes includes your new home address. The address of the property management company or landlord must also be available.
There is a section that specifically stipulates the term of the lease. This section can also include the cost of your rent.
Here, you should ensure that the cost of rent, along with the start and end of your lease dates, are correct. If there is any problem, kindly ask the landlord to fix it.
There is also a special section on rental payments. This section helps you understand when your rent is due, and the grace period you have to pay.
In most cases rent is due every first of the month. In such a case, you will need a prorated amount for your first month’s rent. If there are things you do not understand, kindly ask for clarification.
You’re required to pay a security deposit in most apartments, along with utilities, application fees and rent.
The security deposit amount typically varies with the credit score. However, you’ll get the exact deposit rent amount before you sign your lease.
It would be best if you double-checked through this section to ensure everything is clear.
This section outlines the late charges that you’ll incur if you pay rent late. The section might be on its own, or it might be part of the payment section.
In some cases, insufficient funds in the account or bad checks can count as late rent payments, and may be subject to the fee.
The utility section varies depending on the location of your unit, because each apartment handles utilities uniquely.
In some cases, utilities are included in the rent. However, others charge separately for utilities.
If you don’t understand things here, kindly ask your landlord for clarification.
You can ignore this section if you don’t have pets. If you want to live in a community that doesn’t allow pets, ensure that it’s stated in your lease.
Some of the terms you’ll encounter in this section include additional rules, violations of pet rules, pet fees and pet deposit.
You might have to provide information about your pet if you decide to join a pet-friendly community. Make sure the dollar amount is clearly stated if you have a monthly pet fee.
The occupants or occupancy clause is another important section that you should understand in your lease. It involves the rules that your guests must abide by if they want to stay in or visit the rental property.
It may state the period that a guest is allowed to stay in your home. In most cases, the time for visitors is, at most, between 10-15 days.
In case someone wants to stay longer, you may need permission, so be sure to make sure you are very clear on this clause.
Common Sense Clauses
Some sections are more, or less common-sense, than others. This includes sections to do with criminal activities and conduct.
The sections may outline that drug use and criminal activities aren’t allowed and might form grounds for immediate eviction.
Repair and Maintenance Clause
This section typically spells out the person or entity responsible for paying for repairs, in case problems arise. This is, therefore, one section that you should go through in absolute detail.
If you stay in an apartment community or mobile home park, you might not be allowed to bring a third party in for repairs, unless there is prior approval from your landlord.
This section usually also has rules you must follow to keep the apartment clean.
Right of Entry
Landlords include the right to enter your apartment or property, however it can only happen under specific conditions and reasons.
For instance, a safety inspection may allow a landlord to visit your home. With that said, they must give notice, which in most cases is a minimum of 24 hours.
Move Out Early
There is also a clause that talks about early termination, or breaking a rental agreement. Here, different landlords come up with various rules, so be sure to understand them in case you ever need to abruptly move.
Although this section is somewhat wordy, it’s very important. It basically states that you can get evicted if you disregard the rules.
The ways you can default include, but are not limited to, committing a crime, abandoning the apartment or not paying rent.
The phrase used here is ‘applicable notice.’
Understanding Lease Jargon
You could come across some phrases that may be confusing. Let’s explore them below:
Lessee and Lessor
A lessor represents your property manager or landlord, while a lessee is you, the renter or tenant.
Lease Start and End
The start date represents the date that you become a tenant in an apartment. The end date, on the other hand, is the last day you are officially a tenant, signifying the end of the lease.
An abatement is a clause that allows tenants to pause payment until the property manager completes property repairs.
The repairs that may fall under abatement include, but not limited to:
● Safety Issues
● Natural Disasters
A burnt out bulb or dripping faucet doesn’t constitute an abatement.
An automatic renewal involves a situation where you must give proper notice, to your property manager or landlord, of your intention not to renew your lease.
If you don’t give a notice, you’re automatically given a new lease.
Notice to Vacate
Even when you don’t have automatic renewal, you might still be required to give the notice to vacate. It’s a letter to notify the landlord of your desire to leave, and is typically given 30 days prior.
If you don’t maintain your house or apartment and do not inform your landlord of your intentions to move out, it constitutes abandonment, and forms a ground for eviction.
States have varying abandonment laws, so be sure to understand the local laws in your area.
A holdover tenant is a tenant who refuses to leave a rental unit after the expiration of the lease.
For instance, if your lease expires on the 1st, and you are still there on the 2nd, you’re considered a holdover tenant.
Every tenant has the right to quiet enjoyment. This means that you have the right to stay in your unit without fear of eviction by the landlord, unaddressed safety concerns, or noisy neighbors.
Normal Wear and Tear
This involves minor damages that happen to a property after occupation. Repairs that are considered beyond normal wear and tear may come with additional costs.
Implied Warranty and Habitability
This is an implied right. The landlord should ensure that the conditions within your apartment are livable and up to set standards.