What to Look for in an Apartment Contract

When you look over a home rental contract, you must make sure you understand every component before you sign on the dotted line. You must know how the lease or contract works and what your obligations and responsibilities are in advance.

Although most contracts are similar in their main forms, agreements do change from one lease to another. Even if you have perused and signed contracts before, it is important to approach this one afresh. Make sure you fully understand each section of the contract to stay safe and gain peace of mind.

It is important you do not skim-read the contract during the review process. If you do not thoroughly scrutinize every part of the agreement, you may end up in a bad situation. Take time to look through the contract and know what you are signing as this worth the added effort.

In the following sections, learn the crucial information you must know before signing a contract. Discover how to identify any problems associated with a lease or contract.

Remember, a contract for a home is legally binding, and it is best to refrain from signing anything you are unsure about. Once you are happy with all aspects of the contract, go ahead and sign. Then all that is left to do is move into your new home.

Learn About the Components of an Apartment Contract

Although most contracts use the same layout and contain the same information, be diligent in your review of the document to ensure there is nothing out of the ordinary in the agreement. Generally, a contract includes the following sections:

  • Introduction – This section names the parties involved and makes clear who is the landlord and who is the tenant.
  • Lease Term – This section indicates the amount of time for which the contract is valid. It contains information about how to renew or break a lease.
  • Rent Details – This section explains how and when your rent payments are made each month.
  • Maintenance Details – This section details who is responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of the interior and exterior of the property.
  • Utilities Information – This section specifies if any authorized companies or products are allowed or not allowed on the premises.
  • Deposits and Fees – This section outlines whether a security deposit is required and information on fees.
  • Acceptable Use of the Property – This section includes details about items such as parking, smoking, overnight guests and renovations.

What to Look for in an Apartment Contract

It is vital you understand each section of your contract. If plain language is not used or you do not understand a certain phrase or element, be sure to ask for clarification. If you still have questions in mind, do not rush into signing the agreement. You must comprehend everything that is in writing before you sign.

Once you understand all the terms used in the contract, read through it thoroughly and take note of any concerns. Important parts of the contract to look at include the following:

  • Length of the Lease – Know how long the lease lasts and how you can renew or end it when the time comes.
  • Costs and Responsibilities – Know what your obligations are and know how much rent you must pay and when you must pay it. Learn what the different costs are for the apartment. There may be separate costs for things like utilities, parking and pet fees.
  • Insurance – Determine whether you must obtain insurance for the property or whether your landlord’s insurance covers you as a tenant. Never sign a lease without understanding the insurance terms.
  • Other Tenants – The lease must stipulate rules concerning other tenants. This determines whether you are allowed to have a roommate or sublet your property.
  • Furnishings and Property Condition – Make sure the contract includes an inventory. This must list all furnishings in the property and state the condition of each piece. If there is no paper trail, you may end up losing your deposit for damages that were there when you moved into the property.

Remember, a lease is a legally binding contract. If you do not fully understand the terms outlined within your lease, you could potentially prematurely break your contract, owe money at the end of your contract or unknowingly forfeit your deposit.

How to Negotiate Your Lease

When you review your lease, if there is anything you are uncomfortable about, try to negotiate with your landlord. This is perfectly acceptable and legal, so do not hesitate to air any concerns you may have. Common negotiable elements include:

  • The length of the lease.
  • The rules concerning modifications.
  • Whether you can keep pets.

If you do not want to commit to a one-year lease, negotiate for a six-month contract instead. You could even suggest a month-to-month agreement.

If the landlord seems unwilling to provide a shorter lease period, offer a longer notice period for when you want to move out in exchange. For instance, give two months’ notice on a six-month contract rather than one. If the landlord is still hesitant to agree and you really need a six-month or month-to-month agreement, you may be able to sway the landlord by offering a larger deposit or rental payment amount.

If you are intending to make any modifications to the property, you must get approval written into the contract. A landlord may be more than happy to allow you to subdivide a space or repaint the rooms. though he or she must agree to it in writing before you proceed.

If you have pets or you would like to have some and your contract does not allow animals, negotiate this with your landlord. If your landlord says no and you bring a pet into the property anyway, you face a difficult and expensive legal situation. Your landlord may be flexible about the no pet rule—all you must do is ask.

If your landlord is hesitant to changing a pet policy, you may be able to negotiate by offering the following adjustments to your lease:

  • Including a monthly pet fee. 
  • Including a pet deposit. 
  • Increasing your deposit amount. 
  • Increasing your monthly rent amount. 

However, it is also worth knowing that emotional support animals (ESAs) are protected by housing laws. If your pet is an emotional support animal, you may not be required to pay additional fees or deposits and your landlord may not be able to refuse your ESA.

Learn About Breaking Your Lease

Your contract is a legal document. If you terminate your lease prior to its end date, you may be legally responsible for payments. If you want to move out of your home before the lease comes to an end, first talk to your landlord about your situation.

If you have been paying rent that is less than the average value in the area or if there is a long waiting list for rental units, your landlord may oblige in agreeing to an early end to your lease agreement.

If you are renting a home month-by-month, you have more flexibility regarding when you move out though you are still be required to give notice. Make sure you know how much notice to give your landlord.

Different leases have different periods of notice that must be given. Typically, a month-to-month lease requires you to give anywhere between two weeks and two months’ notice.

Depending on your situation, you may also be permitted to find a tenant to sublease your apartment and, thus, let you off of the hook financially. With a sublease, you become responsible in finding a tenant that will qualify to live on the property and who is willing to stay in the apartment for the remainder of your release. At the end of the lease, that tenant may have the option of creating a new lease with the landlord. 

Related Sources:

How Apartment Leases Work

Residential Lease Forms