Landing an apartment is the first step toward making your new home dreams come true. It’s the time to start measuring your existing furniture, planning out your layout, and potentially purchasing a few key pieces. It’s also, of course, the time to sign your lease agreement to make the rental arrangement official.
Big, important reminder: You should never sign a lease agreement without reviewing it first. Because think about it: A lease agreement dictates the terms and conditions that you are legally obligated to adhere to for your lease’s duration, so if you sign a lease agreement without reading it, you risk agreeing to be penalized for not adhering to everything in the agreement. Whether the consequences are fines or eviction, the risk isn’t worth it. Trust that an hour or two of your time now can save you months of rental headaches in the future.
That said, the vast majority of renters obviously aren’t lawyers or experts when it comes to rental agreements, so it can definitely be hard to know what’s a run-of-the-mill lease term and what presents a good reason to back out of a rental agreement. Fortunately, leasing agent Inna Rubinchik of Leasing Agent 415 has leasing agreement advice for renters and three significant details to watch out for.
You’ll find a ton of numbers throughout a standard lease agreement, from dates to fees to addresses. Rubinchik advises prospective renters to double-check each of these numbers to ensure that they’re both accurate and reasonable.
“If you’re seeing exorbitant fees, deposits, or any number that doesn’t seem right, bring them up with your landlord before signing,” Rubinchik says.
Emphasis on “strange” here — as in, clauses that you can’t reasonably be expected to follow. For example, if your lease agreement says something outrageous like, “Tenant must not return home after midnight on weekdays,” you’ll want to question your landlord about that super weird and invasive clause.
“Any strange clauses or terms you find in your lease agreement should be brought to your landlord before signing,” says Rubinchik. “Never be afraid to ask questions about the lease.”
And if you are able to negotiate lease terms or remove clauses in the agreement, be sure that you get those changes in writing and that both you and your landlord sign the new, amended agreement. Verbal agreements are much harder to uphold in court (if it ever comes to that!) than written agreements.
Most landlords don’t draft their lease agreements from scratch; they use standard lease agreements, which can be found across the web. But either way, if you’re renting in a major market, it’s a good idea to check up on your lease agreement’s source. You’ll want to ensure that everything in the agreement aligns with the laws in your area.
“I advise all renters in the San Francisco area to make sure they are signing a lease agreement that’s San Francisco Apartment Association (SFAA)-approved,” says Rubinchik, who’s based in San Fransisco. “These lease agreements have been vetted by experts in the industry and have been reviewed for legality. They’re the standard in the rental industry.”
If you’re located in a smaller market and/or having trouble tracing the source of your lease agreement, carefully note any clauses that don’t make sense to you, and consider meeting with your landlord to review the agreement together. “If the landlord doesn’t provide a satisfactory answer, reach out to a total tenants union or an attorney,” Rubinchik says. They’ll provide you with legal guidance and connect you with the right resources to help you make your next move.