Although you may be unaware of this, not every residential lease agreement is the same and the importance of reading and understanding what it contains before you sign is absolutely vital.
Unfortunately leases aren't generally regarded as an interesting read and many tenants have found themselves in trouble because they simply glossed over the important stuff before they signed on the dotted line. It's important to remember that a lease agreement that has been signed by both parties is a binding legal document and tenants could find themselves in a predicament if they fail to abide by the terms contained in the document.
The basics that should be included in a lease agreement
A lease should contain basic details regarding the property. The address of the premises as well as the name and contact details of the landlord or managing agent should be provided and it should also include the date on which the lease was signed, state how long the lease will run and mention should be made of annual increases. Other aspects such as how much rent is payable, when it's payable and penalties for late payment must also be included in the document, along with the amount of the deposit and the cost of drawing up the lease.
Who pays the utilities?
Other important factors to check for are what deposits are required for the water and electricity accounts and if the rent is exclusive of utility costs, this must be clearly stated. Also, keep in mind that some landlords demand an additional deposit if the tenant wishes to keep pets on the property.
Who is responsible for maintenance?
The lease will also set out who is responsible for what as far as maintenance goes. It's usual for a lease agreement to state that the landlord is responsible for the exterior and the tenant for the interior. Nevertheless, it's important to check the provisions of each particular lease agreement in this regard. Remember that just because something falls under the landlord’s responsibility clause doesn't mean that the tenant is entitled to abuse that item. Clogging up the toilet and drains with newspaper and expecting the landlord to pay for the plumbing is not only unreasonable, it could be costly as the landlord will more than likely attempt to recoup the cost of the repairs from the tenant.
The number of tenants and overnight visitors
Another aspect that is often overlooked by tenants is the number of people who may live on the property permanently. Again, leases generally allow for a set number of people to live in the home. Tenants who allow additional people to move in could be in breach of the contract. Tenants may also run into problems with overnight visitors, particularly when the utilities are paid for by the landlord and this should be discussed with the landlord before the visitors arrive.
Rules regarding pets
Pets are often a thorny issue and the tenant needs to ascertain exactly what type of pet would be acceptable on the premises. In other words, if the lease agreement stipulates that no pets are allowed, it needs to be established if this extends to animals such as birds, rodents and fish. If in doubt, ask the landlord before signing the lease.
Take the time to read over every clause carefully and ask the landlord or managing agent to clarify items you don't fully grasp. Make sure you understand both your and your landlord's responsibilities before you sign the agreement. Remember there's a chance that some aspects of a lease can be negotiated, but these need to be spelled out in the agreement itself and signed by both parties.