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What Should I Look Out for in a Lease Contract?

Hands going over things to look out for in a lease contract.
Your lease details are a big deal. Make sure you're super clear on these things.

Clicking the box on a user agreement without reading all the fine print is pretty common, but don’t let that habit spill over into your lease-signing behavior. Your lease is usually binding for a long time, and every detail affects your daily life. From pets to parties, it’s important to read all the policies before you sign—no matter how fine the print is.

While you should plan to review (and make sure you understand) every word of your lease contract or agreement, there are some parts worth keeping a special eye out for.

Here are things to look out for when signing a lease.

  • Rent Amount and Due Date

    Make sure the lease matches the rent you expect to pay. If you think rent will be $1,500, but the lease has the rent at $1,600, ask why. It could be an error, or the landlord could have forgotten to mention certain fees, such as a for pet, parking, or landscaping.

    Also, note the date rent is due (it’s not always the first of the month) and how and where to pay it. And check whether there’s a grace period before rent is considered late. Some leases say rent is late if it arrives more than three days past the due date—those days are your grace period. Some leases have no grace period at all. If there will be late charges, the amount of those charges and when they start should be specified in the lease. Note that some states restrict how much landlords can charge for late fees.

  • Terminating and Renewing

    Many times a lease simply ends on the date stated in the lease. But not always. Some leases automatically renew unless you give written notice, generally one or two months in advance. Make sure you know, especially if you’re planning to move when the lease’s original term is up.

    An early termination clause states what happens if you want to leave before your lease is up. You might be able to break the lease by paying an early termination fee, typically equal to two month’s rent. If there is nothing about a lease break fee, you will probably be on the hook for rent until the end of your lease term or until your landlord re-rents.

  • Guests

    When you rent, you’re almost always allowed to have people over. But when does a frequent guest become a part-time roommate? Many landlords have a specific guest policy to help clarify the difference. It’s common for a lease to limit how long your guests can stay, such as for no more than 10 days in any six-month period.

  • Subletting

    Whether you’re studying abroad or on an extended work trip, you might need to be away from your rental for an extended period. It makes sense to have someone take over the rental and the rent payments while you are gone—called subletting. Before you arrange this, read your lease to determine whether you’re allowed to sublet. Some landlords prohibit it, some allow it, and some allow it only with approval. If the lease is silent on subletting, it’s best to first ask your landlord for permission. It is their property, after all.

  • Maintenance Responsibilities

    One of the perks of renting is that repairs are usually the landlord’s job. But what about maintenance? Anything from mowing the lawn to changing the HVAC filters can be a gray area. As a tenant, you’re typically responsible for keeping the place clean and letting your landlord or property manager know if something is wrong, such as a leaky roof. If you’re responsible for anything else, it should be in the lease. Some tenants take care of landscaping, snow shoveling, and minor repairs such as replacing light bulbs and smoke detector batteries.

  • Pets

    Pets are a big deal in rentals. If you own one, make sure you’re allowed to have it. Don’t try to sneak one in. Pets are hard to hide, and being found out can mean making the heartbreaking choice between your furry friend and lots of money. The good news is that many landlords allow pets, but they might limit the amount or type. They also might charge a pet deposit or extra pet rent each month.

  • Renters Insurance

    Some landlords require tenants to have renters insurance. If so, it should be in your lease. Renters insurance covers your belongings if they are damaged or stolen, so even if you aren’t required to have it, it’s a good idea to buy it anyway.

Now that you know what to look for in a lease, start searching for available rentals on Trulia.