5 Things You Should Do Before Entering A Lease

Most of us have rented property at one point or another, usually a house or apartment. The process of renting can be rushed, stressful, and confusing. There’s finding a place to rent, packing your stuff, giving notice to the place you’re leaving, finding time to actually move, and a million other little things that need to be done. During the frantic period leading up to renting and moving there are a few important things that can fall through the cracks and come back to bite you in the end. Hopefully this article can help you avoid some of those pitfalls.

Before we get into the big points, there’s one overarching thing to remember about any dealings with a landlord, it’s all business to them. This holds true whether you’re talking about a residential or commercial lease, whether you’re dealing with a private owner or a major property management company. The landlord’s two major interests in renting property are making money and avoiding unnecessary work. You can use this to your advantage by presenting yourself as someone who is going to pay rent on time and will not leave the rental a mess at move out. With that in mind, let’s take a look at the things you need to know:

  1. Be professional. Remember, it’s a business transaction; act like you’re doing business. Dress professionally. No need to wear a three piece suite but you’d be surprised how far a shirt with a color and a clean pair of slacks can get you. In any dealings with the landlord, write as you would to a professional colleague or a school professor. This applies to every contact with them from the first time you contact them until after you move out. And always keep in mind, a little politeness and courtesy can get you things that a full blown law suite can never accomplish.
  2. Visit the property. Avoid moving into a place sight-unseen if at all possible. Ask a potential landlord for the address of the property and if they can schedule a time for you to tour it. Find out if the property is currently occupied; if so avoid bothering the present tenants when you look at the property. If a landlord refuses to give you the address of the property or to let you look inside before you sign a lease, walk away and find somewhere else to rent. You’ll be glad you did. I realize that some people are moving from a distance (I moved between coasts once) so I know it’s not always possible to see something in person before you’re more or less committed to living there. If you can’t visit though, at least get recent pictures.
  3. Get Everything in Writing. This rule should probably be higher on the list as it is the single most important thing that you can do to avoid trouble down the line. Start as soon as you begin looking for a place to rent. Print rental listings and take them with you when you visit the property (see number 2). Make sure everything lines up with what it’s supposed to be. Get the lease in writing and read over the lease before you sign it. Do not let your landlord intimidate you or pressure you into signing a lease you have not read and do not actually agree to. These are binding contracts and should be treated with the appropriate importance. Also, remember that you and landlord can edit the lease to work for both of you. Even though the landlord may have a printed and typed form, if the two of you agree to make edits you can cross a section out or add in language to suit your needs. If you and your landlord initial by the changes they become just as binding as everything else. Make sure both you and your landlord keep copies of the lease with both of your signatures on it. Start keeping a file with all of your household papers in it and make sure you store that file in a safe place where you can access it quickly if you need to. When you are paying rent, make sure you get a receipt of some kind. Many leases have provisions that say cash only. These are terrible provisions for tenants and you should try to get your landlord to agree to another form of payment. If you can’t, you should invest about $10 in a receipt book and have your landlord fill out and sign a receipt every time you pay rent. This will potentially save you from an eviction for not paying rent. I also recommend communicating with your landlord solely by email. That way you and your landlord have copies of exactly what was said. If you agree to something orally, send an email to the landlord confirming the agreement. Never assume that you are both going to remember the same thing, so keeping written records can save you from the ‘he said she said’ trap that many people find themselves in during a court battle.
  4. Read the lease all the way through. Every time I sit down with a landlord to look at a lease, I read through the whole thing. Almost every landlord I’ve ever had has seemed very surprised by this. Some landlords have even told me that I was the only person who they’ve ever had read the whole lease, but it’s saved me some headaches. One apartment I was trying to rent had a line in the lease that we were only allowed to have one car between the two people who were renting the apartment (we had two). The landlord didn’t even know that provision was in the lease. So we edited that provision before we signed it. Would it likely have been a problem? Who knows, but because we crossed that section out it certainly was not. So, the lesson here is that no matter what the landlord thinks of it, you should always read the lease all the way through. It might be a waste of 10 minutes or it might save you a huge hassle down the road. Also, I sometimes see leases that reference additional documents such as behavior policies or addendums. Make sure you read those documents before you agree to anything. Their terms are often very restrictive and can be bound by them even though you haven’t seen them.
  5. Agreements for work to be performed. If you and your landlord agree to any repairs or improvements to the rental after you move in, be sure to set up dates for those to be done. This is unlikely to come up often, but when it does you’ll be glad you remembered to do it. If, for instance, your landlord tells you that they’re looking to upgrade some major kitchen appliance or redo the carpeting in the unit after you sign the lease, you and the landlord should pick a date by when those upgrades should be finished. The same goes for minor repairs. Along with setting dates, make sure to set some consequences in the event the landlord doesn’t comply, such as a decrease in rent until the situation is remedied.