What Should you Ask Before Signing a Lease?

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If you feel slightly overwhelmed when it comes time to sign on the dotted line at lease renewal time, or if you’re considering renting a new apartment and don’t know what to ask, you’re not alone!

There’s nothing wrong with ascertaining that you’re on the same page as the landlord or rental agent about what services you’ll be getting. Asking the right questions will inform you as to what you’re entitled to, and what your responsibilities are.

The only way to find out is to ask, but sometimes renters-to-be don’t know how to couch their questions. Let’s give you a quick rundown on a few intelligent queries that may have already crossed your mind, but you perhaps thought were too out in left field to ask.

Will I get some or all of my deposit back?

A deposit is usually the amount you hand over to your prospective landlord to cover the costs of any repairs should you leave the apartment in a worse state than you found it. Tip: Always tell yourself you’ll leave a place BETTER than you found it—this will set the course for you early on. Even if there’s light wear and tear, most deposits are returned. In any event, you must clarify that this is indeed the case, and that this is not the sort of deposit which will not be returned, regardless of the state the apartment is in when you leave.

Will my deposit earn interest?

Will you be informed as to which bank or financial institution is holding your deposit? If you’re paying in cash, will you be given a receipt?

What is it like to live here?

This is not a question you should ask the landlord or rental agent per se, but it is an important one. Ask this of neighbors and perhaps store owners in the neighborhood. Another question you might ask is relative to your transportation. If you don’t have a vehicle, figure out where the closest bus or subway line is.

What damage am I responsible for?

Notice any damage in the unit? Speak up, or you might be asked to pay for it when it’s time to move out. Let’s say you see that the shower head is missing. You might politely ask when the superintendent or management office will repair it. If the landlord or agent waves it away as an unimportant observation, take a photo or jot down the particulars in your notebook. Then, when it comes time to sign the lease, mention the repairs.

What utility payments am I responsible for?

Finally—and this will help your budget AND keep your lights on—ascertain what portion of the utilities you will be paying. Who is going to turn the utilities on, if you’ll be paying the utilities company directly? When will the utilities be turned on, and when will they be turned off? If the money will be paid directly to your rental agent or landlord, will he or she charge late fees for any reason (i.e., if you’re late by a few days)? If so, how much? While you’re asking about late fees, be sure that you’re clear on whether you’ll be charged late fees—or how they can be waived—if your rent isn’t paid on the first of each month.

Hopefully, this information will give you confidence and insight when facing the issue of either renewing a current lease or signing a new one. Remember, you’re signing a legally binding contract (as long as the words are not phrased contra to any local or state laws). You have every right to know what you’re signing, so that you may adhere to the terms.

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