When asked, most people will still be able to remember the first apartment they ever lived in on their own. This is because signing the lease for your first apartment can be a very big deal!
But even if you have signed dozens of apartment leases in the past, there is always something new to learn. No two apartment leases are likely to ever be exactly alike, even though many landlords today opt to use the boilerplate leases recommended by the state or their local landlord association.
So many of the tenant/landlord and tenant/tenant issues that crowd the internet today can be avoided or at least lessened by understanding these three simple truths before you sign your next (or your first) apartment lease.
1. Each state is permitted to set their own tenant rights and landlord rights laws.
This is an area where many transplants can encounter some unexpected and unpleasant surprises. Just because you signed one or several leases in the state where you last lived doesn’t mean that the new lease you are about to sign in your new state of residence will be similar or the same.
As Money Under 30 explains, each state is permitted to outline their own rules, regulations and laws regarding tenant rights and responsibilities and landlord rights and responsibilities. This includes how conflicts are resolved, how often and how landlords are permitted to inspect rental dwellings once occupied, what is required and how long it will take to get your security deposit back and other important issues.
To be safe, be aware of your new state’s laws and review your pending lease against those before you sign.
2. It is your responsibility to fully understand the lease you are signing.
Some leases are just one or two pages – simple and quick. Other leases can run to 20 or 30 pages with all kinds of clauses, addendums, exclusions and exemptions. Leases can become especially complex when there is a lot of negotiation on the front end and everything that you and your new landlord just agreed to now needs to be documented in writing within the body of the lease or in addendums.
Unfortunately, those dry and dull lease documents are one hundred percent your responsibility to read, review and understand in full before you sign. If this means you need to consult an attorney to decipher less well-understood sections or clauses, it is still worth the extra expense to avoid costly disputes in the future.
There are also no stupid questions when you are signing a legal document. If you don’t understand something you read or if something doesn’t sound right, be sure to ask before you sign. Never assume the issue won’t ever come up or the landlord will automatically do the right thing.
In the end, it is fully up to you to sign the lease with both eyes wide open and knowledgable about what you are agreeing to. As Forbes points out, this includes doing your homework on your landlord to feel reasonably certain they will hold up their end of the lease when needed.
3. Repercussions for breaking a lease (early termination) can be severe.
Early termination does happen, and sometimes it is absolutely unavoidable, but the repercussions can be long-lasting. Occasionally a landlord may let a tenant out of a lease early for some type of extreme extenuating circumstance, but even in this case, you will still likely lose your full security deposit plus be on the hook to pay for the remainder of your lease.
In most cases, breaking a lease early will go on your credit report and will show up when future landlords run the standard background checks. While state mitigation laws often offer some protection to a tenant who breaks a lease, MoneyCrashers reports that lawsuits are another potential issue that may arise if your landlord decides to pursue you to recover lost rent.
Ultimately, the best approach is to talk openly with your landlord as soon as you become aware you will need to break your lease early. This way, you can try to come to an arrangement to avoid later lease-related financial or legal troubles.