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7 Warning Signs in Your Residential Lease Agreement

Once you’ve found an ideal apartment you’d like to rent, chances are that you will want to immediately sign a lease or rental agreement to secure the property and many landlords will ask you to sign a “standard agreement.” Don’t! You should never be in a rush to sign such a document as these “standard leases” are often weighted in favor of the landlord, sometimes to the detriment of the tenant.

A signed lease is a binding contract between you and the landlord and you will have to live with its terms for however long its duration. Before you commit to such a contract, it is in your best interest to fully understand your rights as a tenant as well as the potential consequences of breaching such a contract. It is equally important to understand the landlord’s obligations. That way, you will not end up agreeing to terms that are unfair and unfavorable to you.

A good starting point before signing any contract is ensuring that it does not contravene any local property laws, wholly or in part. Then there is the importance of making sure that you understand all the terms laid out in the agreement, especially the ones that are not easily understood or that are ‘masked’ in legal jargon.

The average tenant will, in all likelihood, not fully grasp all the terms that will be included in a lease or rental agreement, which is why a consultation with a real estate attorney is highly advisable before you sign such a contract. This is because they are more likely to spot and understand these terms than you are.

Having said that, there are oftentimes when certain terms or clauses are included in a lease or rental agreement that are almost certain to be detrimental to the tenant, even though at face value they may not seem that way. This again underscores the value of seeking out professional help that is more likely able to spot these terms and bring them to your attention.

If any of the following terms are included in the proposed lease agreement, you seriously need to reconsider whether you want to rent an apartment from this landlord. It might be wise to look elsewhere. 

Making your security deposit non-refundable

No lease agreement should require you to waive your right to a deposit refund. Depending on the laws in your state the landlord can ask you to pay anything from one to three months’ rent as a security deposit.

While there might not be any term that outrightly or explicitly says that your deposit is non-refundable, there might be certain clauses within the relevant section that implicitly states this. Such a clause might be written in such legalese that the average person might not fully understand what exactly it means, which again, is where the value of an attorney comes to bear.

Apartment for rent

Granting the landlord unlimited access to the property

As a tenant, you have the right to privacy and to enjoy the property unhindered by the landlord. Your landlord should, therefore, not have unfettered access to your apartment unannounced. While you would be expected to allow the landlord reasonable access to inspect the property, to carry out maintenance work, or to show the apartment to prospective tenants at the end of your lease, this access should only be granted with your prior approval and knowledge.

The landlord should, therefore, give proper and reasonable notice before entering your apartment. This should consequently be stated in the lease or agreement. Besides situations of emergency like a burst pipe, there should not be any part of the agreement that gives the landlord unrestricted access to the apartment.

Do not sign anything that entitles the landlord to make unannounced visits or any terms that explicitly or implicitly limits your right to privacy. 

Restricting the tenant’s use of the property unreasonably

Similar to your right to privacy, you are also entitled to the quiet enjoyment of your rental property. A landlord cannot restrict this right. Don’t sign any clause stating that you, for example, need the landlord’s permission to have visitors or to have visitors after a certain time, or to have a party. Of course, you cannot use the apartment for any illegal activities and you should not cause a disturbance to other tenants, but you do have the right to enjoy your apartment without ‘unreasonable’ restrictions.

Maintenance Instruments

Requiring the tenant to be responsible for all maintenance

Both landlord and tenant have their respective responsibilities. The landlord is legally responsible for keeping the rental property habitable. That usually includes plumbing, electricity, maintaining a structurally sound roof, heating, etc. He or she is responsible for the maintenance and general upkeep of the property. Of course, it is a different story if you break something. For example, if you or your guest breaks a window in the property, you will be responsible for the damage, or you might be responsible for mowing the lawn and general landscaping in your exclusive use area, but you should not be responsible for the maintenance of the property. That is, after all, one of the perks of renting.

Do not sign any clause that shifts the landlord’s obligation to maintain the property to you as the tenant.

Unreasonable early termination penalties

Beware of any clause that states that you will be liable for the rent until the end of the lease term upon early termination. What happens if your employer asks you to transfer to an office in another city or state 6 months into your 12-month lease? You could end up paying rent for 12 months, even though you only stayed for 6, even if the landlord finds another tenant for the remainder of the term.

Tenant and Landlord

Waiving your right to sue the landlord

This can and should never be included in any rental or lease agreement. If your landlord breaches any landlord-tenant laws, you have the right to sue him or her. Waiving this right is not a valid clause; if the landlord tries to include this in your agreement, run.

Any clause that aims to exclude the landlord’s legal liabilities, should be viewed with extreme caution.

Renewal clause without a specified renewal rent 

A clause or term stating that the tenant and the landlord “will agree on the new rent amount”, or the renewed rent will be “market-related” could potentially not be favorable to you as a tenant. You want to know exactly what you are in for in dollar amount if you decide to renew your lease agreement, or at least have a fairly accurate idea of what it will be. This is especially true if you are signing the lease with a view of staying long term.

Conclusion 

A good real estate attorney will be able to explain all the terms of the agreement to you and point out where some of them might not be in your best interest, even if you can’t clearly see it. If you do not agree with any of the “standard” terms in an agreement, an attorney can help you negotiate with the landlord. Anything can be negotiated. With the right type of help, it should be possible to reach an agreement that is fair to both you and the landlord.

If the landlord is not open to discussion or negotiation and you feel the agreement is unfair, run!

Author Bio
Kanayo Okwuraiwe is a startup founder and a digital marketing professional. He is the founder of Telligent Marketing LLC, a digital marketing agency that provides law firm SEO services to help lawyers grow their law practices. Connect with him on Linkedln.

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