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Questions To Ask When Signing Your Lease

Hunting for an apartment can be a long and stressful process. When you finally find the perfect place, you may want to power through the lease-signing process. Things move pretty quickly when you rifle through the pages stopping only at each space marked “sign and date here.” But be careful! You’re signing a legally binding document. Your living experience will be much less stressful if you take the time to communicate with your property manager before you get the keys. If both parties understand what is expected of them, there will be fewer surprises along the way resulting in happy managers and even happier residents. Ask these 16 questions to be sure you understand your lease what is expected of you as you move into your new space. 

How long is my lease term?
Generally leases are 12 months long, but their length and terms depend on the property. Some properties will offer short-term leases of six months or less, while others might require leases over a year. In many cases, you'll find that you get a better deal when you sign a lease of 12 months or longer. Either way, it’s important to know what is expected of you, because when you sign your lease you are committing to stay in the apartment for that amount of time.   

What should I expect when I’ve completed my lease term?
There are a number of sub-questions to be asked along with this one. When you’re nearing the end of your lease it’s good to know if you are allowed to extend the lease on a month-to-month basis after you’ve completed the initial term. If you stay, will the rent go up? By how much? If you don’t notify management that you are moving will the lease automatically renew? How much notice must you give if you do plan to move out at the end of your lease term?

What happens if I have to move out early?
While you signed the lease and committed to its terms, circumstances change. What happens if you have an emergency and have to leave early? Is terminating your lease early an option? How much notice must you give? Are you allowed to sublet? Most companies will keep some or all of your security deposit if you move out early. It’s in both parties’ interest to address this process before a lease is signed. 

When and where is rent due?
Every apartment is different. Do you drop your check off at the property manager’s office or send it to their corporate headquarters? Can you pay online? When is rent considered late and when do late fees begin to apply?

Is the rent prorated?
If you’re moving in or out in the middle of the month, you should ask if your rent can be prorated. This means that you will only be charged for the days that you actually live in the apartment. 

Is my security deposit refundable?
It’s important to know the terms of your security deposit. Is any portion of it non-refundable? As mentioned in our guide to shopping for your first apartment, it’s wise to make note of any and all preexisting damages to avoid being charged for damages you shouldn’t be held responsible for. Also, be sure to notify management of any damages that occur while you occupy the unit so that they can be addressed right away, rather than waiting until you move out. 

Are there any additional fees for amenities?
Does your property have garages or a gym onsite? Do you get to access these amenities for free? It’s wise to ask about extra fees related to any amenity not located inside your apartment. Many properties will include these features with your rent, but some will not. Just ask.

What utilities are included?
Some properties will include all your utilities with your rent, from electricity and water to cable and internet. Others might only cover water. Make sure you know your responsibilities so that you can establish a monthly budget that includes a set dollar amount for housing expenses.

Are pets allowed? If so, must I pay an extra deposit or pet rent?
Even if you don’t have a pet, it’s a good idea to know a property’s pet policy. Are pets allowed? If so, how much more will you have to pay each month? What other deposits or fees are involved? Does your property have any breed or size restrictions?

How do I reach maintenance and when are they available?
You want to know who you should contact in the event of an emergency. Can they be reached 24/7? How do you submit requests for fixes that aren’t emergencies? 

Am I responsible for any maintenance?
Some townhome properties have small yards and many have sidewalks and driveways. Who is responsible for mowing the lawn and keeping the concrete clear of snow in the winter?

What will you do to prepare my apartment before I move in?
To be sure that you move in to a clean apartment, address preparations before you sign the lease. If you’re promised clean carpets, painted walls or updates, get this in writing and follow up with your manager if these items have not been completed by the time you move in.

Can I personalize my apartment?
One of the joys of having your own place is making it your own. You’ll want to ask your property manager how much decorating and personalization you are allowed to do. Can you paint the walls, hang pictures or shelves? Checking up on this before you move in will ensure that you don’t do anything to keep you from getting a fully-refunded security deposit when you move out. Also, ask your property manager if maintenance staff would be willing to help with the updates. Several Lloyd Companies properties will mount T.V.s or hang pictures for residents.

What is the guest policy?
What’s the property policy on having friends and relatives stay with you? Some properties offer guest suites that can be rented for a nominal fee. If your visitors can’t stay with you, how about a couple of doors down?  

How much notice will you give me before entering my apartment?
Some states have laws about when and how property managers can access your space. These details should be outlined in your lease, but most likely, you’ll have to be notified before anyone enters your unit and access will only be allowed at reasonable times.

How often do you change the locks?
This is a good question to ask to ensure that you’re living in a secure building. With residents often moving in and out each year, it’s important to make sure that only current residents have access your property.