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Things to check and do before signing the lease

Things to do and check before you sign a lease


These are some important points to consider and pertinent questions to ask, before you sign a lease agreement. People often rush into signing a lease agreement for fear of losing the property to another desperate tenant. However, before you sign your lease agreement, stop and take some time to make sure you’ve got your ducks in a row.  Renting a property can be a smooth ride, or it can turn a complete nightmare. Make sure that you have all the information you need and don’t let anyone pressure you into signing a lease agreement without reading through it properly. This should help you avoid a few nasty surprises further down the road.





Here are 10 things to do before you pick up the pen and sign:



Examine the Lease Agreement and get everything in writing


Make sure your lease agreement has all the relevant information in it and then read the entire lease agreement.  The lease agreement is a legally binding contract between you and the landlord. It specifies your rights, the landlord’s obligations and the rules you must live by while you live in the rental property. The agreement will probably be lengthy and contain some legal-sounding language. However, don’t make the mistake of not reading it. Carefully read the contract, ask questions, and take it home with you to read if necessary. The contract will likely be enforced by a court.  So if you agree to something like early termination or lease-breaking penalties, you will have to pay for them if you decide to break the lease. You should also be aware of late rent penalties, pet policies, repair policies and the protocol for reporting damage or requesting repairs. If those policies aren’t clear, ask for clarification so there are no issues later.


Find out what happens at the end of the lease. Most leases are for one year, after which the rental agreement will shift to a month-to-month agreement unless the contract is renewed. In a month-to-month lease, you may move at any time as long as you give a 30-day notice. Your landlord can typically require you to move at any time also, as long as he gives the same notice. Also understand the policies concerning the security deposit. A security deposit is money, beyond your first month’s rent, that you have to pay your landlord when you move in. A security deposit is like an insurance policy for the landlord. It will be used to pay the landlord if you move out owing rent or utilities, or damage the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear.  When you move out, if you have paid all your rent and utility bills and you have not damaged the place, the landlord will return your deposit.


Pay close attention to the contract provisions for reporting damage and requesting repairs. The agreement may require you to repair small items. However, the landlord is typically responsible for making large repairs. Most agreements require written notice of damage. If the landlord refuses to make the repair, your options may subject to your lease include withholding rent, paying partial rent, breaking your lease or contacting local building inspectors or city offices. This is of utmost importance when renting a property, to avoid any surprises later on. You and your landlord will then be on the same page about everything that you had discussed verbally, and it will be clear exactly what each party’s responsibilities are.



Establish a good relationship


Be polite and professional when meeting the landlord. Creating a good impression from the start is a great way to land a successful rental negotiation. It’s in your best interests for a landlord to trust you because the more they trust you the happier they will be with you renting their property. Bear in mind that you will be living on their property and they will want you to take good care of it. Be open, ask questions and take the time to form a good relationship with the landlord from the initial meeting.



Find out what changes you can make


Be clear on what alterations can be made to the property. These include; what your landlord’s policy is on making extra keys, hanging artwork, painting the walls, changing the lights and so forth. It is better to know this information from the outset, so that you can work around what your landlord does or doesn’t allow. Rather know the rules upfront, than do an alteration and find out that your landlord is unhappy with it afterwards.



Investigate the landlord


Do some research into the landlord to make sure that they are the rightful owners of the property. Consider what will happen if things go wrong and ask the landlord pertinent questions about what they would do in these situations. Take note of the landlord’s response to any queries you have about repairs on the property - this response will show a lot about how the landlord will react to a difficult situation in the future.



Walk Through the Property  


  • Do all the lights, faucets and appliances work? Clarify with the landlord who is responsible for them.
  • How much closet/storage space is there? Don’t underestimate how much space you will need.
  • Are the rooms big enough to fit your furniture? Take a tape measure with to be sure.
  • Will the living space be cleaned and will the paint be touched up before you move in?
  • How are the rooms heated and cooled? Check the units to see what shape they are in.
  • What repairs are included in the rent?  
  • Is the neighborhood safe? Walk the neighborhood at night (with a friend) and observe your surroundings. Also check online to see if crime reports are available for the area.
  • What does the parking situation look like?
  • Is there any noticeable damage such as a cracked window or stained carpet?



Do Your Research


  • Is there a garage or carport for your car? Be clear on where you can park and make sure that it’s easy to get in and out of. Check the security around where your car will be parked and make sure that it’s in a safe location. If you need to park in the street, make sure there are parking bays near your property, and that the street doesn’t get too full in the evenings.
  • Is there any extra storage available?
  • Are there any extras, like a swimming pool, fitness center, or walking trails?
  • What is nearby? Shopping? Churches? Schools? Bars and Restaurants? Main Roads?
  • How much is the rental?
  • Are utilities included?
  • How much is the security deposit?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Are other residents mostly young families? Older families? College students? Senior citizens?



Visit the property again


It’s a good idea to visit the property at a different day and a different time. This will give you a better feel for what the property is like during the day and at night, as well as during the week and on the weekend. Things like different noises, different light and different weather conditions can all play a factor in whether you feel comfortable in a home or not. So, visiting a property more than once can help you make a more informed decision.



Check all appliances and fixtures


Don’t assume that everything works. During your first viewing, go through the house and turn on taps, flash toilets, switch on the oven and any other appliances that are part of the deal, to make sure that everything is in working order. Take note of anything that isn’t working and bring up any concerns to the landlord at the time, so that they can either repair or replace anything that may need it, before you move in.



Document the property’s condition


Take a few walks through the property and make sure every bit of damage (big or small) is documented in a snag list. You and your landlord should both sign this, in acknowledgment that these issues were there before you moved in and that they are not your responsibility to fix. This will help in the future, should any issues arise with regards to repairs on the property. It will also be useful when you vacate the rental property as both you and your landlord will be able to distinguish between pre-existing and new damage.



Find out about roommates and house sitters


If you think you may want a roommate at some point, check with your landlord what their rules would be about getting one. If you’re away a lot, you may want someone to stay on the property while you’re gone. Make sure your landlords approve of this and are aware of any people that you may have staying in your home while you’re not there.



Understand the termination policy


You never know what could happen in your life and when you may need to move. Make sure that you’re familiar with the termination policy of your lease so that you know exactly what is required to get out of the lease early. Check for things like how many months’ notice you need to give, whether there any reductions to your security deposit and what the cleaning requirements are. It’s always good to have a game plan ready for a quick exit, even if you don’t plan on moving any time soon.


Make sure to double check your lease agreement and consult your landlord with any changes you may have, before you sign. Once you’ve considered these steps, you should be ready to sign a lease agreement and you’re likely to avoid any nasty surprises down the line.