As a former property manager, I know all too well what can go wrong when tenants rent properties without fully understanding the terms of their lease. In my experience, most of the problems for renters occur after they move in and when they move out. Here are three questions you should ask before renting a property to avoid problems after you have already committed to a lease.
How are utilities handled?
This question goes beyond asking who is responsible for paying for the utilities. Some landlords have contracts with specific providers for utilities like cable and telephone. It is important to ask about this upfront because if the landlord does have an exclusive agreement with certain utility providers, it’s likely that you will not be able to choose another provider although you’re paying the bill. In the case of utilities like gas and electric, it’s also important to find out if the property is individually metered or master metered. A master meter collects the utiility usage for all the residential units in one or more centralized meters. The consumption then has to be split among the residents and there are various methods for calculating each tenant’s portion of the utility bill. If the landlord indicates that the property is master metered, be sure you understand how your portion of the bill will be calculated.
What is the penalty for breaking the lease?
Tenants sign a lease with the best intentions but unexpected circumstances may prevent you from fulfilling the terms of the lease. Although early lease termination penalties are typically spelled out in the lease, some landlords don’t explain it and most tenants don’t ask about it. Penalties for breaking a lease can range from a simple forfeiture of your deposit to being required to pay a specified portion of the lease’s total value as a penalty in addition to losing your deposit. Some leases may even require that you find a replacement tenant before you can break the lease. Clarifying the early lease termination process with the landlord in advance will help you avoid signing a lease with severe termination penalties.
What are the requirements for getting my entire deposit refunded when I move out?
In order to get back your entire deposit, most landlords require that the property be left in the same condition you received it with normal wear and tear expected. You should always perform a walk-through of the property with the landlord and note any deficiencies before you move in. All parties to the lease should sign the move-in inspection form. Most tenants have money deducted from their deposit for failing to do simple things like cleaning the property, cleaning the carpet, and returning the keys. If the property and carpet are not clean when you move in, note it as a deficiency so that you can’t legally be penalized for it when you move out. Do not rent the property if the landlord has unreasonable conditions for refunding deposits and does not routinely perform move-in inspections.
Leases can be complicated documents so once you have decided you want to rent a certain property, ask for an advance copy of the lease to allow yourself time to read through it carefully. Reviewing the lease in advance also gives you an opportunity to make a list of any questions that need to be clarified with the landlord and will help avoid problems later.