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5 Things to Look for When Signing a Lease

Unsigned North Austin Rental Agreement ContractOne of the grave mistakes a North Austin tenant can make is to not read a lease thoroughly before signing it. This can become a huge problem because there are no two leases that are exactly alike, and some landlords may add things to the list that you would not be wise to agree with. A lease is a binding legal contract, so unless the particular clause violates state law, you might end up having responsibility for anything from unauthorized guests to tree removal. It is a must to read the entire lease very carefully before you sign anything. As you go over the lease, keep an eye out for these items.

1. Documentation of Property Condition

Make sure your landlord has a system for documenting the condition of the property before you sign a lease or move into your new home. If you don’t have some way of documenting the property’s condition before you move in, you could pay dearly. Ask for your landlord’s documentation process and make sure you report any existing damage before moving in.

2. Termination Policy and Fees

Most leases cover a specific time period, while some can be renewed on a month-to-month basis. No matter what terms your lease has, you must understand the stated policy regarding ending or canceling the lease as well as the fees involved. There are leases that require advance notice 30-60 days before you leave. However, others carry heavy penalties for terminating a lease. For instance, you sign a 12-month lease but then you suddenly need to move after six months, your lease might stipulate that you pay a cancellation fee, the remaining rent on the contract, or both. You may also forfeit some or all of your security deposit. As every lease is different, it is important to go over these policies carefully and ask any questions before signing.

3. Roommates and Subletting

Some renters often assume that renting a home gives them the right to sublet all or part of the home to others. But many leases include clauses that strictly forbid renters from doing so. Review your lease terms carefully before planning to sublet your home when you are away or getting a roommate to help you with the rent. It would be very unfortunate if you get caught illegally subletting your place. You could be evicted or be financially responsible for any damage caused during your illegal tenant’s stay in the residence.

4. Pet Policy and Pet Fees

If a pet is moving in with you into your new home, check your lease beforehand for your landlord’s pet policy. It is not a good idea for tenants to hide their pets from a landlord who has specified that these are prohibited on the property. If pets are allowed, it usually means you have to pay additional fees or a deposit. You should review your lease to see if that deposit is refundable if your pet does not cause any property damage. The only exception is if your pet is a service or emotional support animal. If it is, your landlord must allow the animal on the property and can’t charge any additional fees. Communicate your situation to your landlord to avoid problems later on.

5. Cleaning and Other Responsibilities

As you read through the lease, make a careful note of which responsibilities are assigned to whom. Most leases will stipulate that the landlord will take care of certain services while you have to take care of others. Common tasks often assigned to tenants are lawn maintenance, light bulb replacement, utilities, and cleaning. Some landlords opt to take care of these services and have the property cleaned professionally before the next tenant moves in. Others expect the tenant to take care of this themselves or let the tenant hire their own professional cleaning company to do the job. Regardless, you have to know your responsibilities and make sure you are comfortable with them before signing the lease.

The bottom line is, reading your lease thoroughly is very important. Ask for clarification if there is anything you do not understand. If there are parts of your lease you are uncomfortable with, and these are negotiable, you can ask your landlord for revisions. Since you will be the one living with the lease terms, it would be best not to have any surprises later on.


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