Maybe you are just starting out, and this is the first place you can call your own. Perhaps you are getting out of a bad relationship and looking forward to a fresh start. No matter what your situation, chances are you are excited about moving into a new apartment. However, it is important not to let the “wow” factor of the experience cloud your judgment and keep you from being careful and discerning when choosing a place to live. Landlords are generally sophisticated people, and remember, it is their job to make money off of you. Here are five important questions to ask before you sign on the dotted line.
1. What exactly is included in my lease?
In Florida, a landlord is required to provide certain basic necessities to a residential tenant. This includes full compliance with applicable building, housing, and health codes. Additionally, the landlord must maintain the roof, window screens, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, and foundation in “good repair.” The landlord must also keep the plumbing in reasonably good working condition. However, this does not mean that the landlord is responsible for repairing damage that you cause to the apartment or any part of it. Note that these requirements may be different if you are renting a house or duplex.
If you are renting an apartment (not a house or duplex) the landlord is also responsible for extermination of pests, providing locks and keys, keeping the common areas clean and safe, removing garbage, providing heat, and ensuring running and hot water. This does not mean the landlord has to pay for those things, only that he has to ensure they are available. However, whether it is your responsibility to cover those costs should be stated clearly in your lease agreement. Further, it is your responsibility, after you move in, to notify the landlord of any problems with the apartment.
2. What is not included in my lease?
Beyond those items discussed in question number 1, landlords and tenants are generally free to negotiate the lease and what items will be each party’s responsibility. It is common for landlords to require tenants to pay for things like power, gas, cable, etc. It is wise to ask the landlord the average utility prices in the building so you are not shocked by your first months’ bills. Additionally, you should negotiate parking arrangements and have that agreement included in your lease.
3. What can we negotiate?
While it is common for tenants to feel that they are not able to negotiate, it never hurts to ask the landlord to throw in a few freebies. For example, you might ask the landlord to upgrade the refrigerator if you agree to paint the walls. Or, maybe the landlord will agree to install new carpet if you sign the lease for 18 months instead of 12. Be brave! You never know what you might get unless you ask.
4. What happens if I need to terminate the lease before the rental period is over?
Life is unpredictable. While exciting, a lease can be a frightening, and seemingly permanent, decision. What if you lose your job? What if you have to move? Generally speaking, a lease will provide for penalties in the event you move out or abandon the property early, and may include an early termination fee. A landlord has a number of options for trying to get back the rental money you owe him, including holding you personally liable. However, you have rights too. If it becomes necessary to terminate your lease, you should contact an attorney to make sure you protect yourself.
5. Can I have a copy of the lease to read before I sign?
The single most important question you can ask is to see a copy of the lease before you sign. You will likely be agreeing to a number of things that affect you personally and financially, so it is important that you take your time to step back from the excitement of moving and consider the legally binding nature of the document. You should consider contacting an attorney to review the document to make sure that you and your assets are protected.