Four Absolute Must-Do’s Before Signing a Lease

Apartment-hunting can be equal parts thrilling and frustrating, especially for first-time renters. While the prospect of finding the perfect apartment can be a headache, heading from complex to complex with no end in sight, the relief of finding the right fit makes the whole experience seem worth it.

However, there are some absolute must-do’s for any renter prior to signing a lease, no matter how tempting it is to sign immediately.

Perhaps “don’t rush” seems like obvious advice for renters. Keep in mind, however, the tendency for some landlords to be rather aggressive and tempt renters with same-day deals. On the flip side, apartments can fill up in a matter of hours in busy areas such as San Francisco or New York City; therefore, renters are often put in a sticky situation if they’re inexperienced with the process of renting an apartment.

Don’t get too caught up in the excitement. Before you write your name on the dotted line, consider the following.

Read Ratings and Reviews

Today’s renters are at an advantage when it comes to finding a landlord or complex that won’t turn out to be a nightmare. Thanks to the transparency of sites offering apartment ratings and reviews, you can see comments and experiences from previous tenants, both positive and negative. Sites such as Rentseeker work to target specific areas and provide information such as floormaps and landlord information that can help you make your choice when it comes to choosing an apartment.

Although you should read any online review critically, a complex with exceedingly negative reviews should likely be avoided. Likewise, complexes with abundantly good reviews may be worth checking out.

Read the Fine Print

While it may seem like a no-brainer, many renters fail to actually read the in’s and out’s of their lease and are shocked with they’re hit with huge fees when they decide to move out. You should take the time to read your entire lease, preferably alongside someone else who can catch red flags in the fine print, including…

  • The specifics of your security deposit
  • Whether or not your complex follows a dynamic pricing structure (where rent is higher or lower based on the month of rental, for example)
  • What happens if you decide to break your lease, including penalties and fees

Such policies only scratch the surface of what may be included in the language of your lease. For this reason alone, you should ask to take your lease home instead of trying to read over it with your landlord breathing down your neck.

Ask Questions (and Get the Answers in Writing)

After you’ve read your lease, you may find that certain policies are not mentioned. For example, is there a fee for having more than one pet? Are you allowed to put nails in the wall? Once you’ve compiled a list of questions, have your landlord answer them and get the answers in writing. Again, this may save you from a potential dispute and ultimately avoid a “he said, she said” situation.

Ask to See Your Unit

If possible, you should ask to see the actual apartment unit that you’ll potentially be renting. Many complexes will provide tours to a pristine sample unit, made up with decorations and kept spotless. Such units are rarely representative of what you’ll actually be renting. If your complex is not privy to this request or dodges it altogether, it may be a red flag. You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you’re stuck in a fixer-upper with no way of getting out of your lease.

Renting an apartment can sometimes feel like walking into a minefield; however, it doesn’t have to be this way. By knowing what to look for as a renter, reading the fine print and preparing yourself to ask the right questions, you’re better poised to find the right apartment for you and enjoy your living situation for the long-term.

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