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5 Things to Look for When Signing a Lease

Unsigned Falcon Rental Agreement ContractOne major mistake a Winooski tenant can make is not reading the lease completely before signing it. This can be a very big problem because no two leases are exactly alike, and some landlords may stipulate things in the lease that you should not agree to. A lease is a binding legal contract, so unless a clause violates state law, you could end up with responsibility for anything from unauthorized guests to tree removal. Read the lease from top to bottom before signing anything. As you read through the lease, look out for these items in particular.

1. Documentation of Property Condition

An important item to check before signing a lease or moving into your new home is the landlord’s system for documenting the property’s condition. If you don’t have some way to document the property’s condition before moving in, you could pay a hefty price. Ask also for your landlord’s documentation process and report any existing damages immediately before moving in.

2. Termination Policy and Fees

While most leases cover a specific time period, others may be renewed on a month-to-month basis. No matter what terms your lease has, you must understand the stated policy regarding ending or canceling the lease as well as the fees involved. Some leases require advance notice if you decide to leave, usually 30-60 days. However, others carry heavy penalties for terminating a lease. For instance, you sign a 12-month lease but then you suddenly need to move after six months, your lease might stipulate that you pay a cancellation fee, the remaining rent on the contract, or both. You may also forfeit some or all of your security deposit. Because each lease is different, you have to review these policies carefully and address any unclear portions before you sign.

3. Roommates and Subletting

Renting a home does not give you the right to sublet all or part of the home to other people. But many leases include clauses that strictly forbid renters from doing so. If you plan to sublet your home during an extended absence or have a roommate to share the rent with, you have to carefully check if your lease allows this. Illegally subletting your place can get you evicted or held financially responsible for damages during your illegal tenant’s stay in the residence.

4. Pet Policy and Pet Fees

If you are bringing a pet into your new home, check your lease first for your landlord’s pet policy. It is a bad idea to hide a pet from a landlord that prohibits them on the property, and most tenants who try this usually get caught. You must anticipate additional fees or a deposit for allowing your pet to stay. You should also check to see if your deposit is refundable if your pet doesn’t cause property damage. The only exception is if your pet is a service or emotional support animal. In this case, your landlord is required to permit the animal on the property with no additional fees. If this is your situation, it is best to be clear with your landlord to avoid any problems later on.

5. Cleaning and Other Responsibilities

As you read through the lease, make a careful note of which responsibilities are assigned to whom. In the usual leases, the landlord will take care of certain services, leaving the others for you to do. Usual tenant duties include lawn maintenance, light bulb replacement, utilities, and cleaning. Some landlords prefer to take on these services and have their property cleaned professionally between tenants. Others expect their tenants to do it on their own or hire a professional cleaning company to get the job done. Whichever arrangement you have, you must know if you are comfortable with the responsibilities assigned to you before you sign the lease.

The bottom line is that it’s really important to take the time and read through your lease carefully. Do not hesitate to clarify anything you do not understand. If there are parts of your lease you are uncomfortable with, and these are negotiable, you can ask your landlord for revisions. You are the one who will have to live with the lease terms so the more you know, the easier your stay will be.


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