Pen and Lease Agreement

Rental Apartment Lease Issues: Why you should read the fine print

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So you found your dream apartment. The location is close to work and shopping. The floor plan is spacious. The rent is reasonable. The neighbors are quiet. It's everything you hoped for, and more. Right?

Well, not so fast.

Before you sign on the dotted line, be sure to read the lease. The whole lease. Especially the fine print. While the document may appear to be innocuous, it may, in fact, contain rules and restrictions that will impact how much you can actually enjoy your new home, and how much money you must spend before, during and even after your stay there. You may find some of these issues to be deal-breakers. Others may simply be annoyances you'll have to learn to endure. In any case, it's always best to be prepared.

The following are some common rules and restrictions found in rental apartment leases:

  • Pets. Many rental apartment buildings have restrictions on the kinds and number of household pets you can have — if any at all. Some may allow dogs and cats, but only under a specified size and weight. Some permit only birds, fish and other permanently caged animals. If dogs and cats are allowed, restrictions on where they can be walked may also be specified. If you're a pet owner, be sure to learn about any restrictions when considering where you might live.
  • Children. Some apartments are family friendly. Others are not. If you're young and single — or an older empty-nester — you may welcome a ban on noisy "rug-rats." On the other hand, if you have kids, or you're part of a young married couple thinking about starting a family, you may not want to settle into a rental community where infants are verboten.
  • Smoking. An increasing number of rental apartments are now "smoke free." While some might argue that people should be able to smoke in the privacy of their own homes, it remains difficult to keep cigarette smoke — and its irritants — from entering other nearby units and common areas. Such restrictions may also apply to tobacco-less vapor cigarettes and even marijuana where it's now legal for medicinal and/or recreational purposes.
  • Painting. Some apartment buildings allow you to paint interior walls to your liking — as long as you pay for the paint and labor — while others demand you either acquire written approval from the property's management or simply leave them their original color (we hope you like beige).
  • Decorating. While virtually all rental properties allow renters to hang pictures, mirrors and other wall-mounted items, many place restrictions on decor that requires physical alterations to the interior structure or that could permanently damage walls, floors or ceilings. If you plan to attach items of significant sizes or weights to interior surfaces — such as a wall-mounted TV — be sure to check with your property manager before making any changes you may come to regret.
  • Weight. Weight can be an issue for multi-story buildings, especially older ones. As a result, you may not be able to keep a large aquarium, an upright piano, or a waterbed (does anyone still own waterbeds?).
  • Noise. Speaking of pianos, your lease may impose restrictions on playing music — live or recorded — that can be heard outside the confines of your unit at specific times. When you live in an apartment, headphones are your friends.
  • Appliances. Are all major kitchen appliances, including ovens, refrigerators and dishwashers, provided by the apartment owner or do you have to provide some — or even all — of these yourself? If you have to buy any large appliance, you'll need to figure that expense into your moving budget.
  • Maintenance and Repairs. What interior upkeep is your responsibility and what is the owner's? Pay particular attention to rules governing plumbing repairs, as even small ones can end up big bucks.
  • Utilities. Are you responsible for paying monthly utilities, such as gas and electricity, or are these expenses included in your monthly rent? What about air conditioning? Even if utilities are included, check for any language restricting your usage or monthly allowances.
  • Balcony/Patio/Deck Usage. If your apartment comes with an exterior balcony, deck or patio, there may be restrictions on how you can use it. Bans on wood-burning fires or charcoal barbeques are common.
  • Subleasing. If you have to move before your lease expires, you may or may not be barred from sub-leasing the unit to another renter, depending on your contract's language. If you think your short-term living situation may be in flux, it's best to check with the property manager about sub-leasing rules before you commit yourself to a long-term contract.
  • Security Deposit and Refund. How large is the required security deposit, and how much of it can you reasonably expect to get back when you leave? How does the property define "usual wear and tear" verses damage for which you will be held responsible? 

Remember, there is no such thing as a "standard" apartment lease. Rules and regulations vary from state to state, from market to market, and from property to property. Before signing a lease — which is a legally binding contract — make sure you fully understand your rights and your responsibilities under the agreement. Insist that everything be in writing to avoid any misunderstandings. And then enjoy your new home!

Are you looking to make a big move to a new apartment? Visit our apartment search page to find the best available apartment communities in Northern and Southern California.

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