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What You Need to Know Before Signing Your First Lease

What You Need to Know Before Signing Your First Lease

Signing your first lease can represent a big moment - the first time you've moved out of your childhood home, graduation from college, return from overseas, and more. For that reason and others, it's nothing to shrug off, and there are many different aspects to consider. To make sure that your first rental goes as smoothly as possible, you'll want to make sure you've got all the bases covered. To help you get started, we've rounded up a team of experts and asked them to contribute their best tips for new tenants signing their first lease. Whether you're in Houston or Providence, here's what the experts have to say about signing your first lease!

Jason Conroy, RTI Properties: Make sure you are signing with a reputable management company that genuinely wants you to be happy in your new home.  Also, one that allows you to pay your rent and submit maintenance requests online.

Mike Dunfee, Mike Dunfee Group: The Mike Dunfee Group has helped assist many people through the process of securing their first lease.  New tenants are often so excited to start the new chapter in their lives that they forget to think about what it will conclude. For those that have roommates, or are part of a domestic relationship, first-time tenants need to think about what happens if a roommate needs to move out early or if the domestic relationship ends.  You can’t just move and forget your legal responsibility with the lease.  There is often not an easy solution, so first-time tenants need to be aware of what they are getting into as they are making a legal commitment.

First time tenants need to be aware of the condition of the property when they move in and make sure to make record and report any defects the property may have when they take possession even if they do not expect the landlord to make the repair.  That way the tenant is not responsible for paying for damage that was not their fault.  What may not seem like a big deal when you move in all happy and excited, it could be a source of major frustration when it is time to move on.

John Sacks-Wilner, Property Management Redfined, LLC: Finding an apartment can be an exciting time and you may be in a rush to get into a new apartment. Don't rush the process. Your lease agreement is your governing document between landlord and tenant. Make sure to fully read and understand what your lease requires before you sign it. Do not hesitate to ask questions about the lease before signing as once the lease is signed, you're bound to it.

Christopher Barrow, Broker/Owner, Foundation Homes Property Management: When signing a lease for your first rental (or for any subsequent rental for that matter), it's important to recognize that your landlord - and his or her specific approach to managing the rental - will have a major impact on your time in that property.  The concern with DIY landlords (especially newbies) is that while almost all are well-meaning, many have a hard time separating emotion from business, and lack the bird's eye view required to plan for long term concerns like capital improvement (which results in all sorts of tenant inconveniences like mildewed caulking, leaking roofs, or worse).  A rental managed by a reputable management company is best, as professional management companies are familiar with not only the laws (so they won't ask you to comply with illegal terms), but also are familiar with best practices to help keep qualified tenants happy to stay long term.

Caroline Kane, CEO, CKR Property Management:

A lease is a legally binding document and is typically 6-8 legal sized pages with 10 point font:  that said, request a copy of it prior to your move-in date to allow ample to time to carefully read and review the obligations you will be entering into.

Tour the property that you have chosen as well as the actual physical location of the apartment that will be yours to insure that both the property and the units location meet your needs and desires.

A tour of the community will also give you a “feel” for the management at the helm of the community.  You need to feel as though they are competent and professional to steer the ship you will be calling home.

Erlin Taylor, Owner, illume Property Management LLC: Tip #1: Look closely at the floorplan and overall layout. Is the kitchen prep area well-designed and is the washer and dryer in a convenient place? In the long-run, a well laid-out floorplan will be valued much more over square footage.

Tip #2: Look closely at any special move-in offers and do the math to see which option offers the most dollar value. Also, check the agreement: if you move out before your lease is up for renewal, you might have to pay back that move-in incentive!

Fourandhalf - A Marketing Agency for Property Management Companies:

1.) Drive by the property during the day and during the night

Most people check out rental properties during the day because most showings happen during the day. But before you sign a lease, drive by the property at night. This can give you information such as how hard it is to find street parking at night, neighborhood safety, and even how well lit the streets in your neighborhood are.

2.) Take photos and videos of the whole place

This is good practice, especially if you notice some parts of the unit/house that are damaged or showing wear and tear before you move in. Your property management company should take their own move-in photos and videos during the move-in inspection. These will later on be used to prove any security deposit claims or support security deposit reimbursements. But in the off chance that something unexpected happens, it's good to have your own documentation in hand.

Beth Nathanson, Property Manager, Florida Property Management & Sales: Choose your co-occupants carefully! Entering into a lease is a legal commitment, and many people don’t realize that in most cases when they rent with other people, they are still each wholly responsible as individuals for all contractual matters. That means that if your roommate doesn’t pay their portion you are responsible for any unpaid rent. You may also be responsible for any damages or violations your roommates cause, any broken lease, etc. I’ve heard too many stories of roommates who moved out only to find out later that their credit and rental history is ruined because the roommate who stayed didn’t pay, got evicted, or left damages. Remember when choosing a co-occupant that your financial future is in their hands as well. Choose wisely!

Smart Shield Property Management: Tip no 1: renters should acquire and maintain a renter's insurance policy throughout their lease. Property owners and management companies maintain policies, but none of these usually cover damage to the resident's belongings.

Tip no 2: thoroughly check for any rodent or pest issues when viewing the property, or immediately after moving in. If issues are reported early on, the responsibility for solving them falls on the landlord. If tenants delay reporting and several months pass, it'll be impossible to figure out what/who caused the issue, and the responsibility for solving it, including payment, will fall on the tenant.

Daniel Muldoon, Property Manager, Muldoon Associates, Inc.: Before signing your first lease be sure to talk with a property manager.  Pay them to make sure the job is done right. There are too many regulations for an individual homeowner to do the job correctly and a professional will make sure it’s taken care of!

Cody Bishop, Director of Rental Management, Tidewater Property Management: Don’t be afraid to ask! Before signing your lease agreement, fully understand all terms and conditions of the agreement. If you don’t understand, just ask.

Greg Weik, Owner/Broker, Real Estate Solutions (RES)Find out what fees the landlord or property management company charges, from the application fee, to an admin fee at lease signing, to renewal fees, maintenance fees, online rent payment fees, etc.  Many companies are beginning to pass enormous fees onto tenants, in an effort to appear more "cost friendly" to their client - the homeowner. 

You need to know how the landlord or company handles maintenance!  Is it a private landlord who fancies himself/herself a "handyman" and may cause more harm than good (and potentially put you and your family in danger), or will a licensed and insured professional visit the property if something goes wrong?  How do you reach your landlord after hours and how responsive are they?  You don't want to be stuck with no hot water for 3 days because your landlord can't handle maintenance!