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Four things to think about before you sign a lease

For many students, signing their first lease may be their first real experience with a binding contract.  For other students who have purchased vehicles or rented equipment, contracts might be somewhat more familiar.  Either way, signing a lease can be a complicated or confusing experience, and it’s essential to keep a few things in mind.  Most importantly, keep in mind these tips.  This guide is meant to give you some idea of what to expect when signing a lease, but be aware that it does not include everything you should be on the lookout for.  Read any lease slowly and carefully, and don’t be afraid to ask your landlord questions if something is unclear.

1. A Lease is a binding contract!

The price may be right, but is this property the one for you?  Before signing a lease, consider whether the property will meet all your needs.  Questions to ask yourself include:

  • Is the property as close to the university as you would like? 
  • Will you need a car?  If so, do you have designated, safe parking?
  • Are you comfortable in the neighborhood?
  • When is the rent due?
  • Are there any circumstances that would allow the landlord to increase the rent?
  • What, if any, utilities are included in the cost of rent?
  • Are guests allowed on the property?  If so, are there any restrictions on guests?
  • What types of pets, if any, are allowed at the property?
  • Who is responsible for the removal of snow or tending to lawn care?
  • Who do you contact if something in the apartment needs repair?  Also, who is responsible for the cost of fixing issues that may arise?
  • What is the penalty for early termination of your lease?
  • What is the penalty for damage in the apartment when you decide to move out?
  • Are you allowed to add roommates or sub-let the apartment?

If you have concerns, make sure you take the time to answer them completely before signing your lease.  It is a binding contract! Once you sign it, you are subject to all the terms and conditions included therein.

2. Duration of the lease
Once you sign a lease, you are legally obligated to stay there for the time specified.  Early termination of a lease can result in huge fees, potentially costing you hundreds of dollars of your hard earned cash.  Some landlords may negotiate a 9 month rental contract which would fall in line with the academic calendar. Don't be afraid to ask for this if you've found the right place.  Offering to pay a little bit more in rent in order reduce the contract length is a wise idea.  It's worth paying a little extra per month than to pay 2-3 months of rent on an empty apartment!
3. Up-front costs

Often when first leasing an apartment, the landlord requires more than just the first month’s rent.  He or she may also require a security deposit, the first and last months’ rent, or a combination of the two.  This can easily double or triple the cost of your first month in your new apartment.  When leasing a new apartment, keep this in mind and make sure you have enough money saved to overcome this first hurdle. 

4. Rental Insurance!
Renters insurance is a necessity for anyone renting or subletting a home or apartment. Whether you live in a single family home, duplex, townhome, condo, loft, studio or apartment, you need to have renters insurance to protect your belongings and your liability. In fact, many landlords throughout America require tenants to purchase rental insurance when they sign a lease with their renter.   If you have any computers, TVs, digital cameras, etc...then you should consider having rental insurance to cover your goods.  Unfortuantely, we have had experience with students losing good due to flooding/water damage, fire, and theft.  Your landlord's insurance is NOT required to cover the property of the renters.  The cost of rental insurance depends on the value of the items you are covering. There are many companies that provide rental insurance and you can find them with a simple online search!