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UNDERSTAND YOUR LEASE
We urge you, as a resident, or prospective resident, to read this lease guide. It is always better to be an informed resident than to make a mistake and learn afterward about the law. These guidelines may vary from state to state and depend on the exact wording of your lease.
IMPORTANT ADVICE ON DOCUMENTATION
You should keep a file of all papers, notes, and receipts relating toy our tenancy, including your lease, canceled checks, and letters from or to your landlord. You should also document any steps or actions you take when you are involved in some kind of dispute or when you are seeking some kind of agreement.
READ AND UNDERSTAND YOUR LEASE
A lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant that grants one party possession and use of another party's property for a given period of time. The lease is the basis of the landlord-tenant relationship and sets forth the terms of possession, such as rent, length of time of possession, and rules governing the tenancy.
Before entering into a rental agreement (whether oral or written), make sure you understand everything you are promising. As soon as the lease is signed, it is enforceable, even if the tenant never moves in.
Read The Lease And Understand It -- If you do not understand a clause, ask management to explain it to you.
Know The Lease Term -- Leases usually have a one-year term. If you plan on moving sooner, contact management as soon as possible. Unless the landlord releases you from your lease, you are obligated for the entire lease period. You MAY NOT sublet your apartment, or allow anyone else to live in your apartment other than you and the family/household members listed in your lease.
Know Who Is Responsible For Repairs -- The landlord has to make repairs BUT the landlord may make you pay for repairs which you caused by your own (or your visitor's) negligence.
You will be given a copy of your written and fully executed lease when you sign your lease.
Reading Your Lease
Remember, the lease is an agreement that legally binds both parties to the terms of the lease. Before signing a lease, read it and make sure you understand everything. Leases are often written in confusing language, so make sure management explains everything you do not understand.
Points to Check in Your Lease
Dates of Tenancy -- The beginning and ending dates of your tenancy show the lease period during which you've the right to possess the premises and the obligation to fulfill all the conditions of your lease.
Rental Payments -- The amount of rent and its due date is clearly specified. Rent is due on or before its due date each month. There is a grace period. After that you may have to pay late fees. If you do not pay your rent (without making arrangements with management) you can be evicted.
Rent Increase -- A tenant is protected from rent increases only if a your lease provides for a fixed rent or a specific rental period.
Security Deposit -- The specific amount required for the security deposit (also termed damage deposit, cleaning deposit, and pet deposit) should be clearly stated, as well as any conditions for its return.
The landlord must return the deposit after the end of the lease term. If you have a pet, you may pay an additional "pet" security deposit.
Repairs -- Perhaps the most important point to examine in a lease and discuss with the landlord is the responsibility for repairs. The landlord is responsible for repairs -- large or small, unless caused by the negligence of the tenant (or his/her guests).
Move-In Condition -- When you sign your lease, you accept the premises "AS IS," meaning in their present condition. Your apartment should be clean and in good order and repair at the time you sign.
You and management may inspect your new apartment before you sign your lease, and complete a move-in check list, which you both sign.
When you move out, you and management will use this checklist to inspect the apartment before you move out.
Obligations for Cleaning -- Your apartment should be clean when you move in. You will be required to keep the apartment in clean condition while you live in the premises.
Common Areas and Yard Work -- Management is responsible for the maintenance of common areas and yard work and for trash and snow removal. You are responsible for removing trash and garbage from your apartment and disposing of it in the appropriate trash area in the building.
Utilities -- Will you be paying for the utilities for the lights and cooking gas in your apartment?
You must arrange with the utility company for service before you movein. The utility company can give you an estimate of the cost of utilities.
Written Notice -- Your lease may state that you must give 30 days written notice of your intent to vacate. If you fail to give notice, and move out, your lease contains a clause which stipulates that you are responsible for an additional month. Make sure you understand and follow the amount of written notice you will be required to give before ending your tenancy.
Landlord's Access -- Your lease allows management to enter your apartment at any time, in the event of emergency, and with your prior consent, for repairs and maintenance and other specified reasons. Your right to privacy is protected under your lease.
But, you must cooperate with management to allow management to enter to make repairs or inspections, or to show the premises to prospective renters or buyers. Management must give you reasonable notice and obtain your consent prior to entry, except in cases of emergency.
Cleaning -- Most state's law allows the landlord to withhold from the security deposit actual costs for cleaning or deterioration over and above normal wear and tear and for "cleaning contracted for by the tenant. You are responsible for leaving your apartment as clean as when you moved in when you move out.
Subletting or Assignment Clause-- If your lease states that subletting or assignment ARE NOT allowed, only you and the members or your family/household who are certified and listed on your lease may live in your apartment.
House Rules -- Your lease may include rules of behavior such as pet rules and quiet after 10:00 p.m. You may also be provided the House Rules, Police and / or Procedures. If the rules change management should provide the changes in writing.
Be sure you read and understand the House Rules, especially those dealing with guests, security and time restrictions, so that you will be aware in advance.
Management must give proper written notification in order to raise the rent for the next lease period.
You will be expected to pay the increase beginning with your new lease period.
To Change or Renew Your Lease
If you need to change your lease during the one-year term, you must meet with management, and rewrite or delete certain clauses in your lease. Any changes are invalid unless agreed to by both parties.
Both you and your landlord may initial and date the change. Keep a copy of the revised lease for your records.
Be sure you read and understand your lease amendment, and keep a copy for your records.
Release from Your Lease
If you have to move before the end of your lease term, you and your landlord must agree to release you from your lease. If you end your lease properly, in accordance with the provisions of your lease, the landlord will remove your name from the lease or will void your lease and would enter into a new lease agreement with the new tenant. This will end your liability for future rent or damages.
The landlord will return your security deposit to you, and will collect a new security deposit from the new tenant. This is the safest and clearest arrangement for you.
The landlord may deduct from the deposit for the following:
Any unpaid rent or utility bills owed by the tenant.
Payment for damages to the premises beyond "normal wear and tear" ("Normal wear and tear" is that deterioration which occurs based upon the use for which the rental unit is intended, without negligence, carelessness, accident, or abuse of the premises or equipment or chattels by the tenant or members of his household or their invitees or guests).
Any other breach of the lease causing financial damage to the landlord.
Return of Your Security Deposit
If you have fulfilled all the terms of the lease (including giving the landlord proper notice, if required), have paid the rent in full and on time, and have left no financial obligation to the landlord, and have left your apartment in the same condition as when you moved in, minus "normal wear and tear," you are entitled to a full return of the security deposit. The tenant should either collect the security deposit in person or leave a forwarding address with the landlord so that the landlord can return the deposit.
A landlord may not discriminate against you on the basis of "race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, religion, national origin, ancestry, pregnancy, parenthood, custody of a minor child, or mental or physical disability of the individual or such individual's friends or associates. . . .". In buildings development especially for certain populations- such as elderly and handicapped, and/or low income families/households, the law allows landlords to restrict residency within the government specified guidelines for those buildings.
The law prohibits denial of housing to an (eligible) individual, charging different (than certified) rents or deposits, requiring different lengths of lease, or establishing different lease conditions, on the basis of the above listed categories in.
Discrimination also includes racial, ethnic, religious or sexual harassment, and evicting under standards not applied to tenants of another race, national origin, etc. "Steering" is likewise illegal, i.e., showing minorities, foreigners, the handicapped or families with children some apartments but not others, or putting them in another building or on a separate floor.
Under federal and state laws, there are special requirements for the handicapped. A tenant may not be refused or treated differently because he/she uses a wheelchair or a walker, and landlords may not refuse or charge any deposit for a guide or service dog.
Landlords must also make reasonable accommodations in rules, practices, policies and procedures to accommodate the handicapped, (such as reserved parking near the entrance). In apartments designed for the mobility impaired, structural changes are made to enable the handicapped tenant full enjoyment of the premises.
In addition, the law requires that landlords must also allow handicapped tenants, at the tenant's own expense, to make reasonable structural changes to the apartment, (such as widening a door or installing grab bars), if the change is necessary to give the handicapped tenant full enjoyment of the premises.
Every Tenant's Legal Guide, 2nd Ed, by: Janet Portman, Marcia Stewart, Mary Randolph
For Apartment Professional
Protecting Your Personal Property
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