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read your lease before you signFinding a new house or apartment to rent can be exhausting, and it is a huge relief when you finally find the right place. When that happens, you might be in a hurry to just go ahead and sign that lease without reading the entire thing. However, that would be huge mistake on your part. Reading and understanding your lease is the first step to being a good renter and having a positive experience with your new home.

First and foremost, you need to understand that your lease is a binding, legal agreement between you and your landlord. It states what is expected on both sides. Sometimes items on a lease may be negotiable, but even if they are not, you still need to know what to expect and what your landlord expects from you.

Your lease should state obvious things, like how long you are required to live there, the amount of rent due each month, and when it is due. It should also list the amounts of any deposits due and also discuss any possible increases in rent. However, there is more involved with renting a property than just the rent and deposits.

Reading your lease in its entirety should also help you understand the following issues:

  1. Are there restrictions on adding roommates? You may think it is a great idea to let that friend crash on your couch for a while to save money, but your landlord may have other ideas. A lease typically states who is allowed to live at the property and may also give a policy concerning guests.

  1. Are pets allowed? If so, are there species or size limitations? Is there a separate pet deposit? If so, is it refundable?

  1. Are any utilities included in the rent? You may find that some utilities are included. However, it may very well be that you will be responsible for all utilities and will need to budget accordingly.

  1. Is parking included in the rent? Where are you allowed to park your vehicle? Is there a limit on the number of vehicles allowed to park at the property?

  1. Who is responsible for maintenance? If the air conditioner goes out in the middle of summer, is it your responsibility to get it fixed or do you simply need to notify the landlord and they will take care of it for you?

  1. Are you allowed to use outdoor space? Who is responsible for its upkeep?

  1. Do you have the option to sublet the apartment or house? Something may come where you need to leave the area temporarily, but may not wish to give up the rental property long term.

  1. Are you allowed to make changes or renovations? Even if you think they make the place better, you may be responsible for returning the house or apartment to its original condition.

  1. What happens if you need to move before the end of the lease? Sometimes leases have opt-out clauses that lists what you are responsible for in that situation. Is there a certain amount of notice you are required to give the landlord? Do you have to find a replacement renter? Knowing these kinds of things will help you decide how to proceed if you need to move early.

  1. Will you be required to show the apartment or house near the end of your lease? Occasionally landlords require current tenants to show the rental to prospective tenants or to at least make the property available and presentable.

As you can see, there is more to a lease than just the amount of rent you need to pay and when it is due. Your lease contains a wealth of information that you need to know to have a positive rental experience. Don’t worry about making people wait for you as you read it. This is one place where you don’t want to cut corners. Finally, make sure that you save a copy of the lease for your own records in case you need to refer back to it later.