Here's What You Should Know Before Signing an Apartment Lease

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  • It's important to understand your lease and the terms of the rental before you sign.
  • Make sure you know when rent is due and how to pay it.
  • Also ask if pets are allowed and what you're supposed to do if you need to break the lease early.

Never sign a lease without reading it (and understanding it).

Signing an apartment lease is one of those "real grownup" moments when you truly get to feel like an adult. According to data from The Zebra, 44.1 million American households are renters, so if you're renting, you're certainly in good company. And contrary to what some people may tell you, renting isn't "throwing money away." You're paying for a roof over your head, which is definitely valuable.

Knowledge is power, and if you go into a new rental situation with eyes wide open and armed with the right information, you'll certainly feel better about signing that lease. These are the most important points to focus on, and if you have questions about any of them, ask your landlord or property manager to explain or clarify.

The terms of your rent

It's of the utmost importance to find out when your rent is due, how you pay it, and what happens if you're late. It's generally common to have rent due on the first day of every month, but not always. I rented a house several years ago, and since I moved in on the 10th, that was my rent due date for every month I lived there.

Ask how you're supposed to pay your rent. I've been pretty lucky for my last few rentals in that I've been able to pay digitally rather than having to mail a check. If you live in a big apartment complex, you might be able to drop off a rent check to an office and save yourself the cost of a stamp.

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You may be given a few days' worth of grace period for paying rent -- for example, if rent is due on the 1st, you might have until the 5th to pay it without incurring a late penalty. Be sure to ask what that late penalty may be, and strive to avoid it, as life is expensive enough without needing to tap your bank account for that extra charge.

Whether you need renters insurance

Some landlords or property management companies require tenants to have renters insurance, so you definitely need this information. I'd argue that even if it's not strictly required, you should get a renters insurance policy anyway. Why?

While the property owner will have homeowners insurance, it won't cover any of your belongings should something happen to the home. Plus, renters insurance can also offer liability coverage, so if someone is hurt in your apartment and you're held liable, insurance will cover the costs incurred. If you're worried about the cost of renters insurance, note that it is less costly than homeowners insurance (as it covers less), and you might be able to save money by bundling it with, say, an auto policy.

Who is allowed in the apartment

One of the drawbacks of renting versus owning a home is that you don't get total say over who can be in your home. Your landlord may have a no pets policy, for example. If you're hoping to adopt a pet after you move, this is information you need. Your landlord may allow pets but limit how many you can have, the size, or even the breed.

You might also be limited in who can spend the night in the apartment or how often. Some leases will specify that overnight visitors are only allowed a few nights per month, for example (this may be more common in big complexes where parking could be an issue if apartment residents have frequent overnight visitors).

Whether you're allowed to renovate

It's generally the case that when you rent, you're not allowed to make changes to the property (or at least, not permanent ones). This varies widely, however, and you may have lucked into a rental situation where your landlord doesn't care if you do things like paint, add wallpaper, and so on. Renovating your rental can be nice, especially if you're intending to stay for a long time, so it's a good idea to ask if this is allowed.

How you can break the lease

Finally, you need to know what happens if your plans change and you need to move out before the lease period is up. If your lease is month to month, you generally just need to give a month's notice and won't owe any additional money. In other cases, you may need to give more notice and pay the equivalent of a few months' rent, or even continue paying until the home is rented again.

There's a lot to consider when you're moving to a new rental, and it's important to be as informed as possible about how to pay rent, how to break a lease, and whether pets or other individuals are allowed in your home. Take the time to read your lease carefully before signing, and ask as many questions as you need to.

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