10 Critical Questions to Ask Before Signing an Apartment Lease
So you have decided upon the apartment you want to call home, the next step is to sign the apartment lease. Prior to signing a lease, however, you should make sure you ask the landlord and know the answer to these questions:
Make sure the rent you agreed to along with the start date and end date of the least term are correctly stated. Double check the address and apartment number. Check the date each month the rent is due. Make sure the security deposit amount is correct and keep in mind, one month’s rent as a security is customary.
We highly recommend that you request an inspection of the apartment to document its condition before you move in. Take pictures during the walk-through and be sure to write down any damaged areas. Provide a copy of these notations to your landlord and retain a copy for your records. When you move out you can do the same. This will help assure a return of your full security deposit and avoid landlords unfairly blaming you for repairs.
Look for Rent Payment Method
In your lease your landlord should specify how they want to receive your rent, i.e. check, online portal, Venmo/PayPal. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the timeframe you have to pay your rent; it’s typically within the first five days of the month. You should time your payments so that they are received by the landlord by the due date. Do not count your payment as timely by the postmark date. If you do not pay within this time, you may incur fees, which should be specified in the lease.
Some landlords—especially in buildings where apartments aren’t separately metered or sub-metered—may include utilities in the monthly rental price. But usually only the water and heat are included. Ask what is included, and make sure the lease clearly states who is responsible for which utilities.
Renewal clauses and renewal policies
If your lease has an option to renew for one or more years, check to see if there is an escalation clause that would raise the rent in subsequent years and is typically based on a fixed dollar amount, a percentage of the first year’s rent, or cost of living increases. If you are planning to be in the apartment for more than a year, consider negotiating the renewal rate in advance.
Not everyone loves animals, and having a dog or a cat can be a potential obstacle—especially if you plan on getting one after you move in. If this is the case, make sure the lease explicitly acknowledges this so the landlord won’t withhold consent when you decide to bring home your new best friend.
Where can you park your car?
You should confirm parking, number of spaces, and costs (if any). Also, find out about guest parking and how parking is enforced if someone takes your spot.
The landlord’s insurance does not, despite what many people believe, cover the tenant. The tenant must insure their own property against fire, theft, and water damage, and also must carry their own personal liability coverage, which protects you if you are sued for negligence—starting a fire that destroys part of the building or, more commonly, letting a tub or sink overflow and damaging the apartment below. Some leases require that you have renters insurance. In either case, its prudent to purchase this insurance.
How much notice is required to move out?
Every building has its own policy regarding termination notice. Most landlords require you to provide a full sixty calendar day notice. This allows time for the landlord to obtain a new tenant. Landlords typically require that notice be in writing and many require that the notice be sent certified mail in order to eliminate any dispute as to the date notice was given. Landlords typically use the mailing date as the start date, but the tenant should check to make sure the start date is not based on delivery/receipt of the notice to the landlord
Subletting, Roommates, and Visitors
Most standard leases require landlord approval to sublet, so you will likely need the landlord’s consent to sublet. However a landlord cannot unreasonably withhold consent. You are still financially liable for the entire rent. If your subtenant doesn’t pay, you still need to pay. Your landlord may also charge a subletting fee.
Know that if you make any deals with a roommate, such as their agreeing to pay more for a larger bedroom space or to use their security deposit for the last month’s rent, it’s up to you to get that in writing separately from the lease with your landlord.
Bonus: Have your LegalShield Attorneys review your lease before you sign
Send your proposed lease to Fiffik Law Group. There are specific laws that apply to residential leases in Pennsylvania. Our lawyers can evaluate whether you lease complies with applicable law. We will review it and call you to answer your questions and suggest changes to the lease.