What to expect from a lease
As a renter, you have rights that are protected by various consumer and property related authorities in your state. It is a requirement in some states that landlords or property managers must provide to tenants a copy of some type of ‘Renting Guide’ which outlines the legal implications and general rules of tenancy.
These requirements differ from state by state so check out the relevant authorities in your state before signing a lease to know what guidelines and rights you do have and where you can obtain a copy of any documents. Look in the Important Links to get help find the relevant information or department to speak to.
The Lease Document
The most important paperwork regarding your tenancy is the lease document. Make sure you obtain the terms of your lease in writing and do not sign the lease until you are conversant with the terms and what is expected of you.
These documents are somewhat standard and are provided to you by the landlord or property manager which are usually copies endorsed by their state real estate institute or required under the terms of any state Act pertaining to rental agreements. Standard lease documents contain clauses and terms that cannot be changed as they are there to protect both parties. Additional clauses may be added to standard documents and are subject to your agreement.
You can usually obtain a copy of standard leases from various office supplies stores, newsagents and real estate institutes. Most importantly, whether it is a standard document or other type of lease agreement, ask questions and obtain advice to be sure of your understanding of the lease terms, especially if clauses are struck out. Note that changes to standard clauses may not be legal or enforceable.
It is normal for the landlord to pay for costs associated with the preparation of the lease and all costs that you will be expected to pay should be detailed in the lease.
The lease you sign is a contractual document to protect both you and the owner and will act as a reference in the event of any dispute. Make sure you keep your own copy of the signed lease document and a copy of any attachments.
In addition to the lease document and any other documentation you are required by your state law to receive from the landlord, there is normally a Property Conditions report that you will need to review and sign.
Property Condition Report
A copy of the Property Condition Report must be given to you. This states the condition of the property noting damage, state of repair and condition of the physical aspects of the property including any fittings, furnishings and appliances – prior to you moving in.
Whether done in conjunction with the landlord or property manager or given to you for your imminent return, you will get the chance to check the report and sign your acceptance of it. Take your time to review it and agree with the stated descriptions of condition as it is this document that is referenced and compared to at the end of your lease. Discuss conditions you don’t agree with the landlord or property manager and come to agreement.
You should be provided with a signed copy or duplicate copy of this report for your safe keeping.
If there is any damage over and above ‘normal wear and tear’ for your tenancy period, you will be required to pay for the replacement or repair of such damage, and such costs likely to be deducted from your rental bond. Contact your state tenancy tribunal or board if you have any conflict of opinion.
Rates, Water and Other Service Charges
The rates for water and sewerage are normally paid for by the owner of the property but ‘usage or meter amounts’ are normally paid for by the tenant. Sometimes these costs are bundled into an overall rental rate inclusive of usage charges as a ‘gross rental’, but either way the treatment of water usage should be spelt out in the lease document.
It is more common for standalone properties with separate meters to have the meters read at the beginning of the tenancy and usage charges payable by the tenant. In high rise apartments or premises without separate meters, these are payable by the landlord.
If water usage is payable, the property manager or landlord will provide a copy of the water bill for payment by the due date.
Additional Terms of the Lease
If there is any other matter that is discussed or agreed verbally between you and the landlord or property manager with regard to your tenancy, these should be documented either in the lease or property condition report. You will need written evidence to support any claims you may make in the event of dispute.
These are specified in the lease and are usually made on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis, noting that lower rentals are usually paid on a more frequent basis and higher rentals usually monthly.
The rental payment amount cannot be changed during the lease term unless otherwise agreed by both parties. Upon signing the lease you will most likely be expected to pay your rent in advance, and required to continue to pay your due rent in advance of each payment cycle.
The landlord or property manager will explain to you the various methods for payment of your rent, ranging from cash payment at the property managers office, cheque, direct deposit and phone banking. Make sure you obtain detailed receipts (including address of the property, your name as tenant, name of the party giving you the receipt, the amount, date paid and the period for which the rent covers) and transaction numbers for your records.
Keep a record of all your receipts. If you are posting a cheque, make sure a receipt is sent to you or obtained at some time.
Depending on the terms of the lease, charges may be added to your rental for late payments, insufficient funds or bounced cheques.
In the event that anyone claims to act as a collection agent for your landlord or property manager, be wary and obtain proof of ID or authority before handing over any payments.
Owners are entitled to increase the rent, subject to the terms of the lease. This is not normally done during the term of a lease (unless specified how, when and on what basis the increase will occur) but normally at the end of the lease period.
If there is a rental increase, it normally requires a minimum notice period as specified in the lease and must clearly specify the amount of the increase and when it is payable from.
In the event that you don’t believe the terms fair and don’t accept the new terms, it is best that you first discuss and negotiate this with the landlord to understand why or find agreement. There are reasons that they require a rental increase and often it ties into the market rental increase in the area. Conduct your own research and obtain factual evidence to support in writing why you don’t think the rental increase is fair.
If you cannot reach resolution with the landlord, you can either give notice to leave the premises or challenge the terms via the Tenancy Tribunal (or similar) in your state.
If you do this you will also be required to provide evidence to prove why you think the increase was inappropriate, including evidence of comparably priced properties and conditions.
It is the business of professional property managers to know what market rents are in the area.
You are entitled to receive at least one set of keys for all doors, locks, windows, letterboxes and gates for the property. In the event that there are more names on the lease, a separate copy of keys should be given to each tenant. You should not be charged for your initial set of keys, but you are likely to be charged for any replacements required.
If there are any special alarms, codes, remotes or door keycards these should be given to you also.