Renting a house or apartment can feel like the story of Goldilocks: the search for not too big, not too small. While it makes absolute sense to get caught up in important details like amount of bedrooms, location, size, garage (or absence of one), renting a house or rental unit is a legal agreement signed by both the landlord and tenant. If you want to make sure that legal agreement goes smoothly before and after you rent, avoiding these top tenant mistakes saves you time and headaches throughout the rental process.
Not reading the fine print
A rental agreement is a legal agreement, so don’t just blindly sign the piece of paper without reviewing the document. Particular items to look for is the length of the lease, any penalties spelled out, responsibilities you need to fulfill, and the terms of breaking the lease. Don’t take everything your landlord says for granted; make sure it is spelled out in the agreement in case the landlord forgets or gives you incorrect information.
Not getting it all in writing
If you and your landlord make any verbal agreements, make sure those terms are written out in the rental agreement—and don’t sign it until you’ve seen the additions added on to the form. For example, if your landlord has agreed to repair the water damage in a corner of your bedroom, have them write that out (in full detail, including repair and location of repair) on the rental agreement. This is going to be helpful later if the repair isn’t made. If you have it writing, it’s going to be a lot easier to hold the landlord or landlord company to their promise.
Not getting a signed copy of the rental agreement
A signed lease is like gold when any disagreements arise, and when getting your security deposit back. Unfortunately, some landlords promise to send the copy and don’t follow through. Don’t just ask for a signed copy—insist on it. This is important when consulting an attorney about any problems with your landlord, and one of the first things an experienced lawyer requests.
Not taking pictures
Before you move in, or shortly after, take pictures of the property—especially any areas that are in disrepair. Some examples of items to look for are scratches or damage to drywall, caulking that is pulling off, chips to the counters, sinks or flooring, and any other issues you find. Keep these pictures for when you move out; this simple action can help you keep from paying for damage that was already there.
Not knowing your rights—especially concerning the security deposit
Don’t step into a rental agreement without knowing your rights as a tenant. What actions can you take if the landlord doesn’t make repairs? When do you get your security deposit back (more about that in our article about rental security deposits here)? What can you do if the condition of your unit or rented house becomes unsafe? Remember that regulations vary based on the locality of your rental.
Once you have a signed agreement, make sure you contact your insurance agent about renter’s insurance. It’s inexpensive and incredibly valuable should anything happen to your items in your apartment or rented house (i.e. via fire, flooding, etc.); most renter’s insurance policies ensure that your items are replaced when you need them the most.
If you have any issues with your landlord, such as having him fulfill a promise made in the fine print or getting your security deposit back, consult an experienced local attorney. Take note of the ‘local’ part because a lawyer that does business in your area is going to have a thorough knowledge of local rental regulations which do vary from state to state.