Property Management, Tenant Selection, Real Estate News & Tips

A Renter’s Guide to Understanding Lease Terms

By on May 29, 2018 in Education with 0 Comments

lease terms

A renter’s lease agreement is a binding contract that outlines the conditions for tenancy at a rental property.  You will make this agreement with your landlord or the property management from which you are renting.

Signing the Lease

Lease signing can take place in person or be completed online before you move into a new unit. If you sign the lease with your landlord or property manager present, they should go over all the important terms with you. Make sure you ask questions and understand these parts of the lease.

If you sign the rental lease online, with the help of electronic signatures, it will be up to you to read through the document and understand everything to which you are you are agreeing. Do NOT treat a rental lease signing like a ‘Terms of Service’ check box. Lease agreements are very important legal documents.

Understand the Lease Terms

To help you get through a lease signing easily and without any surprises down the road, we are outlining some common lease terms and conditions you should pay attention to. If you end up violating a simple lease term, you could end up with a fine, an official warning for eviction, or maybe even a notice to vacate on your door.  

Rental lease agreement have lots of conditions and terms that come standard in every lease, like property information, rent amount, names of managers and tenants. But they also have a ton of other important information that will play a role in your tenancy.

Lease Terms for Renters

Rent Due Date and Grace Period

The rent due date is the day you are supposed to pay your rent. Some states allow a grace period, which are additional days a tenant is allowed to pay the rent before a landlord can post a “pay rent or quit” notice on your door (ie you have XX number days to pay your rent before I evict you). While a landlord cannot charge a late fee during the grace period, he can consider the rent late if paid after the due date – which can work against you in your future landlord reference.

Extended Absence

Look for language about requirements to notify your landlord if you will be out of town for an extended period of time, like for a vacation. Some landlords might even require you to give notice if you will be out of town for as little as 3 days. This is important if the landlord needs to access the unit or get ahold of you for an emergency.

Inspections

Are there seasonal or annual inspections of the property? These might include an annual appliance service, or a seasonal maintenance visit.  It’s a good idea to know when your landlord will be stopping by and the lease will give you an idea of when to expect these normal landlord or management visits. FYI while quarterly or annual inspections are normal, I would question monthly inspections, as they get annoying or burdensome.

Renters Insurance

Property managers and landlords might require their tenants to obtain renters insurance as a condition of the lease agreement. Failing to provide proof or to get insurance can be considered a lease violations. If you don’t have renters insurance already, ask your future landlord if they offer renters insurance via their property management software.

Overnight Guests

Double check the lease for information about having guests stay overnight at the property. Some super strict lease agreements won’t allow a tenant to have a guest spend the night more than a couple nights in a row. This can be a challenge for people in relationships, where sleepovers happen often. If your state laws allow it, a landlord might be totally within their rights to say something like, “No overnight guests for more than 7 consecutive nights”. If this is a deal breaker, consider a new lease. Here’s a story for a tenant who is getting evicted because he violated an overnight guest policy.

Decorating

It is fairly common for a lease to prohibit decorating, like painting, hanging pictures, changing light fixtures, or adding curtain. Basically anything that can be potentially damaging to the walls or property fixtures.

Parking Terms

Consider additional parking fees and guest parking policies. Also look at how many cars you are allowed to park on the property and if you are allowed to park in front of neighboring houses.

Storing Things on Your Patio

Some lease agreements have rules about what is allowed to be kept on a patio or in the outside space of a property. For instance, I once received a lease violation notice for having a papasan chair on my patio. I didn’t realize that our lease only allowed designated outdoor furniture on the private outdoor space.

Rent Increases

Look for information about annual or routine rent increases. More often, property managers are building these small incremental rent increases into lease agreement, sometimes known as escalating rent charges. If it’s in the lease agreement but you forgot to pay attention, you might be shocked when your rent suddenly goes up $50/month after the first year.

Security Deposit Interest/Trust Account Location

Some states allow you to collect annual interest on the security deposit. Your lease agreement should have language about where the funds are being held and about your rights to collect the interest.

Broken Cars

If your car is undriveable, and you have it parked in your driveway or apartment parking lot, you could be violating a lease term. Some property managers will simply tow your car, others will issue a lease violation or fine. Your lease should outline what happens to cars that are broken down in the parking lot and how long they can stay parked there.

Visiting Pets

Even if you don’t own the pet, having a friend who brings over a pet to visit can get you in hot water with management. Make sure you understand the pet-policy and what the consequences are if you have a friend bring their pooch over just to say ‘hi’ one day.

Landscaping

Check the lease to find out who is responsible for landscaping and what is considered acceptable landscaping if it is a tenant responsibility.  

Other terms and conditions to look for in your lease can include:

  • Visitors
  • Snow Removal
  • Cleaning
  • Pest Control
  • Barking Dog
  • Noise Policies
  • Turning on Pipes During Winter
  • Notice to Vacant
  • Tenant Required Maintenance.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to note that state and federal laws dictate what can and cannot be included in a lease. In some rare cases, a landlord or property manager might include a lease term that violates federal or state law. You should be familiar with your local rental laws and what rights you have as a tenant.


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About the Author

About the Author: Kaycee (Wegener) Miller manages marketing and media relations for Rentec Direct, bringing a unique perspective to the world of property management and proudly shares industry news, products, and trends within the community. .

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