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5 Things to Look for When Signing a Lease

Unsigned North Austin Rental Agreement ContractAs a Charleston tenant, you should not make the mistake of signing a lease without reading it thoroughly. This can turn out to be a huge problem since no two leases are exactly alike, and some landlords might have items in their lease that you wouldn’t be comfortable with. Since the lease is a binding legal contract, unless the specific clause violates state law, you could end up having responsibility for anything from unauthorized guests to tree removal. Before signing anything, go over the entire lease thoroughly. And, as you go through the lease, watch out for these things in particular.

1. Documentation of Property Condition

Make sure your landlord has a system for documenting the condition of the property before you sign a lease or move into your new home. If you don’t have some way of documenting the property’s condition before you move in, you could pay dearly. For your protection, ask about your landlord’s documentation process and make sure to report any existing damage before moving in.

2. Termination Policy and Fees

Some leases are renewable on a month-to-month basis, although most cover a specific time period. Regardless, you should understand your lease’s stated policy on ending or canceling the lease and what fees you may incur. Some leases may require advance notice, often 30-60 days, before you leave the property. But others can stipulate serious penalties for terminating a lease. For example, if you have a 12-month lease but you move out after six months, you may have to pay a cancellation fee, the remaining rent on the contract, or both. You may also forfeit some or all of your security deposit. Since all leases are different, you have to read these policies carefully and clarify anything before you sign.

3. Roommates and Subletting

Some renters often assume that renting a home gives them the right to sublet all or part of the home to others. But many leases include clauses that strictly forbid renters from doing so. If you plan on subletting your home during a long absence or get a roommate to share with the rent, you have to carefully check if your lease allows that arrangement. It would be very unfortunate if you get caught illegally subletting your place. You could be evicted or be financially responsible for any damage caused during your illegal tenant’s stay in the residence.

4. Pet Policy and Pet Fees

If the home you are looking for is also for a beloved pet, it is a must to check your lease for your landlord’s pet policy. Hiding a pet from a landlord who doesn’t allow them on the property is not a good idea, and most tenants who try this still get caught anyway. You must be prepared to pay additional fees or a deposit if pets are allowed on the property. You should also check to see that your deposit is refundable in case your pet does not cause any property damage. The only exception is if your pet is a service or emotional support animal. If it is, your landlord must allow the animal on the property and can’t charge any additional fees. Communicate your situation to your landlord to avoid problems later on.

5. Cleaning and Other Responsibilities

As you read through the lease, make a careful note of which responsibilities are assigned to whom. Most leases provide that the landlord will do certain services while you do others. Usually, tenants are assigned lawn maintenance, light bulb replacement, utilities, and cleaning. There are some landlords who prefer to have their property professionally cleaned between tenants. Others expect the tenant to take care of this themselves or let the tenant hire their own professional cleaning company to do the job. Regardless, you have to know your responsibilities and make sure you are comfortable with them before signing the lease.

The bottom line is, reading your lease thoroughly is very important. Making sure you understand all the terms, and clarifying anything, if necessary. If there are negotiable parts of your lease, ask your landlord for revisions if you don’t feel comfortable with them. Since you are going to be living with the lease terms, it would be best to avoid running into any surprises later on.


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