6 Questions to Ask When Signing an Apartment Lease
Congratulations on your upcoming move! Whether this is your first time in an apartment or your tenth time signing a lease, it’s always exciting to move into a new home. Unfortunately, that excitement can sometimes turn into regret if you don’t understand the details of your lease. Ask these six questions before signing so you can enjoy your new apartment without any bitterness.
1. Where Can I Park?
Don’t move into a unit without knowing where you can park your vehicle. Apartment complexes might require you to park in a specific location or add a sticker to your windshield. Rental houses might come with special rules about how many vehicles can park in the driveway or on the street. Make sure you understand what to do with your vehicle so it doesn’t get towed. If your household has a large number of vehicles, or if you fix broken-down cars in your spare time, make sure your landlord knows. Otherwise, you could violate the lease without realizing it.
2. What Happens If I Need to Break the Lease?
Plans change. Even thought you’re signing a 6- or 12-month lease, you might need to leave before the end of the contract. You should know the penalty for doing so before you sign. It’s common for landlords to charge 2-3 months of rent, some of which might be covered by your security deposit. In some cases, you can avoid paying fees if you’re able to find a replacement tenants. Other leases are non-transferable. If you’re worried about moving out of the area, try to negotiate a month-to-month lease. You might pay extra per month, but it can be worth it to avoid owing thousands of dollars in fees for breaking the lease.
3. How Do I Pay the Rent?
Some landlords want to be paid by personal check. Others will only accept money orders or cash or electronic transfers. Find out how you can pay your rent and set up a system to ensure it’s paid on time. If you do pay in cash, get a receipt every time you pay.
4. How Much Is the Security Deposit?
Before you move into the unit, you’ll likely have to pay a security deposit to the landlord. This is typically an amount equal to one month’s rent, but it can be higher. The point of a deposit is to cover any damages you might cause. Your landlord must return the deposit, minus damages, at the end of the lease. Make sure to keep receipts after you pay the deposit so you can get the full amount back.
5. Who Pays for Utilities?
Utility bills can really add up: Trash collection, electric, gas, water, internet, cable and recycling. If you’re responsible for all of them, you could pay hundreds of dollars every month for these services. Heating bills during winter and electric bills from air conditioning units in the summer can reach over $500 per month. If you’re expected to pay these bills, you might actually save money by choosing a more expensive apartment that fully covers heating and electricity. Find out the policy before signing a lease.
6. Do I Need Renter’s Insurance?
Some leases require you to purchase renter’s insurance. Even if you’re not obligated to get this type of insurance, you should. Renter’s insurance is cheap (typically less than $200 per year) and covers your personal property in the case of theft, flood damage or negligence on your behalf. If you accidentally leave the stove on or the water running and cause thousands of dollars of damage to your rental unit, renter’s insurance will pay the bill for you.
You should also read your lease before finishing it, and keep in mind that verbal additions aren’t legally binding. If you negotiate something with your landlord, get it in writing. With these tips, you’ll be a savvy, happy tenant.