When it comes to leases and contracts there can be a whole lot of legal mumbo jumbo. So what do you do when contractual language is foreign to you and you don’t have any lawyer friends who won’t charge you and arm and a leg to read your lease before you sign? Or how do you know you’re getting the best deal?
Before you sign your soul to the devil—ok let’s hope it’s not that dramatic – save yourself the stress with the following tips to protect yourself in a lease:
- Do your homework. Thank goodness for the internet. These days you don’t need a private detective to get the dirt on someone, you really just need Google. And you don’t need to rent from a friend to get the details on a place’s past history, you can get reviews from hundreds of people via Apartments.com and other rental reviews sites. Before you sign a lease do your homework: Look up your landlord’s name and see what comes up. Read the reviews on your place to make sure there are no warning signs. Check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure there are no bad reports. There’s a whole lot of information out there that you should get your hands on before you sign a lease.
- Get a Second Opinion. Your best friend doesn’t have to be a lawyer to help you understand your lease. Consider asking friends who work in financial services or marketing to help you double check your lease for anything fishy. Chances are those friends have experience writing and reading contracts, and will know how to find the red flags.
- Record it for the books. Make notes of everything. Pretend you are your own customer service rep. Have a conversation with your landlord? Write down notes such as the date, the time and the highlights of the conversation. If you find yourself in a place where you need facts to reference upon later, you’ll have them and you’ll be taken a lot more seriously than if you are solely relying on your memory.
- Get Greedy. You know what P.T. Barnum said, There’s a sucker born every minute. Don’t be that sucker. It’s a renter’s world right now so consider getting just a little greedy. Do the walls need to be repainted? Then ask for them to be repainted and get that deal in ink! No parking spot? Consider negotiating for one. The point is, it’s worth doing a little old fashioned bargaining these days. Chances are you could get a lot sweeter deal if you just ask. Want to pay $100 less per month than what they’re asking? You get the point. Ask for it. You’ll never know unless you try.
- Immediate Red Flags. Things to pay extra special attention to include:
- Deposits. Deposits are designed to be refundable should you hold up your end of the bargain. That means they should not be applied toward your rent amount, they are a separate line item.
- Damages. You should not be held responsible for all damages. Things happen; garbage disposals break, toilets stop working. Make sure your lease doesn’t hold you responsible…that’s what renting is for after all!
- Utility Bills. Pay extra attention here. If you’re required to pay utility bills through your lease you’d better make sure you’re paying for your share and no others – do extra homework and get that second opinion.
This is a guest post from Courtney Lochner. Courtney writes for Glamour Magazine, Société Perrier, Europe From a Backpack Travel Guides, The Budget Fashionista and much more. Based out of Chicago she is is also frequently found in Paris, Krakow or Rio and almost always, with a glass of wine in hand. Follow her @courtneylochner.