The bedrock of a great landlord-tenant relationship is a fair lease agreement. Unfortunately, one-sided contracts—in which the landlord gets the upper hand—can happen. That makes sense; after all, landlords are usually well versed in the language used throughout standard lease agreements, at least compared to the average renter.
But we’re here to help!
If your eyes get heavy just thinking about reading every page of a lease agreement, allow us to walk you through some of the most common terms you’re likely to encounter in a standard lease agreement. Soon-to-be renters, if you’re worried about entering a bad deal, you can always bring the lease to an attorney for review. But whatever you do, do your best to get up to speed with the basic terminology first.
Access to the premises by the landlord
A standard lease entitles the landlord to enter the property for certain purposes, such as inspecting the premises for damage, making repairs, or showing the home to future tenants in the event you don’t renew the lease. However, the lease also stipulates that the landlord must provide you with advance notice—typically 24 to 48 hours—before accessing the property. Essentially, these conditions ensure that the landlord gives you privacy.
Fixtures and appliances
In addition to providing basic heating, air conditioning, and plumbing, a landlord may decide to equip the home with additional fixtures and appliances. While most apartments already come with major kitchen appliances, like a refrigerator and oven, there are certain removable fixtures that a landlord might provide, such as window shades, pool equipment, or even a plug-in microwave oven. These items must be listed on the lease agreement as being supplied by the landlord.
Release of security deposit
Depending on the real estate market that you’re in, your security deposit is likely to be the equivalent of one or two months’ rent. Since this is a substantial investment, make sure you know exactly when and how the money will be released by the landlord after you move out, advises Rae Wayne, a Realtor® with the Bizzy Blondes team in Los Angeles.
Typically, a standard lease states that the landlord is required to release the security deposit within 60 days after you vacate the home, assuming that you’ve fulfilled all of your obligations, including making all rent payments, returning keys, and of course returning the property in the condition that it was in when you moved in.
Many lease agreements bar the tenant from subletting the property. Granted, you might still be able to work out some kind of arrangement with the landlord if the need to sublet arises. This section outlines the terms for adding tenants to the lease. Most landlords will require the new tenant to submit a rental application, and some landlords charge an administrative fee (usually $100 to $200) for making such changes to the lease.
Before moving into the home, you’ll most likely need to purchase renters insurance and provide a copy of the policy to the landlord. Most leases require the renters insurance plan to include public liability coverage and personal property coverage.
The tenant obligations section covers what you are—and are not—allowed to do to the property. Typically, the lease states that the tenant cannot make any alterations to the property without prior approval of the landlord, including remodeling, painting, drilling holes for cables or telephone wires, and changing the locks. You’re also responsible for keeping the property in “good condition,” which includes not only cleaning the interior of the home but also removing trash and, in some cases, exterior maintenance, such as cutting and mowing the lawn, removing snow, and clearing leaves.
One random yet often overlooked condition that can show up in the tenant obligations section: If the property has more than 50 square feet of hardwood flooring, you might be required to have at least 75% of the floors covered with protective area rugs.
In addition to specifying what day your lease ends, the lease agreement will also include your lease termination date and state the terms for renewal. Most contracts require the tenant to give the landlord 30 or 60 days’ notice about whether he or she plans to renew the lease. If no notice is given, the lease either expires or transitions to a month-to-month lease, which could result in a rent increase.
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