Friday, October 23, 2009

Rental Contracts - All You Need To Know Before Signing

When you rent an apartment you have to sign a lease. This contract/lease contains information about the apartment or house, in addition to the rights and obligations of the tenant and landlord. A lease (contract) is a written agreement between the owner and you the tenant.

A contract should include the following:

• Amount of the deposit
• Amount of monthly rent
• Length of contract
• Building regulations and special clauses
• Supplies and services
• Conditions for the rise in rent

In the case of furnished rooms, an inventory will also be signed by you and the owner, which comprise all the items in the apartment and under what conditions they are. Do it in writing, so you do not have to pay any damages when you leave.

After signing the contract, both parties are legally obliged to comply. It is therefore important to read carefully and understand, take your time and think long and hard before signing. Note that the American owners expect the tenant to comply with the contract as a whole, although there is legal protection which limits the validity of certain clauses of the leases (usually in your favor).


Most landlords will ask you for a deposit, before moving in to the apartment. This is to protect the landlord if there was any damage in the apartment, the owner may keep the money for repairs. The amount of money kept by the landlord depends on the amount of damage.

Almost always the landlord will keep some of the deposit to pay the cost of repairing any damage you have caused during your stay in the apartment. Find out what the deposit covers and what are the conditions necessary for you to get a full return of your deposit. You should inspect the property with the owner and put in writing any damage, and even take pictures.

Many states require the owner to post the deposit in a separate account for savings and generating interest for you during the duration of your stay in the house or apartment. The typical deposit amount is usually of one or two month’s rent.

Rentals and Supplies

The rent is what you pay the landlord each month. The gross rent is the rent plus expenses such as refuse collection, electricity, heating and water (depending on contract). These extra costs are called supply (utilities).

Additional costs depend on the apartment and its location, and individually detailed in the contract. Things like heating, gas, water and electricity are often dependent on personal use. In the U.S., the meters are usually read once a month and the bills are due monthly, every two months or quarterly.

Most owners expect you to pay your rent with a check or money order, although it usually specified in the contract. Some require you to have a renter's insurance to cover them in case of damage to your property or surrounding buildings (example: fire, water/flood, earthquake, etc. damage).

Building Standards and Special Clauses

The contract also includes general rules applicable to residents of the building. Many communities of property owners have rules for living together respectfully and peacefully. These can be included in the contract. In large apartment buildings with many tenants, these standards are often summarized in an annex (building rules). Among other things, usually stipulate that excessive noise is prohibited between 10:00pm and 8:00am. In some cases it may also establish who is responsible for cleaning common areas, like stairs, the entrance and the basement, on certain days.

Follow the rules, because the owner will have the legal right to evicted you of the apartment. This may seem strange to foreigners who come from less regulated countries, but do not be surprised if your apartment party receives complaints from your new (and very angry) neighbors.

Manager: In large buildings there is usually a manager responsible for everything to work correctly. Example: If you have problems like plumbing, contact your manager and let him no so they can fix it.

Pets: If pets are allowed or not is something you should talk with the owner/landlord and to be included in the contract. If a tenant wants to have a pet in the apartment where he lives they must consult with the landlord to see if it is permitted. It is considered pets for dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, etc..

Length Of Contract

Most contracts are for one year, unless otherwise specified, typically contain a clause allowing the contract will automatically renew every month. It is usually required 30 days notice to terminate a month to month contract. The tenant must send the owner a written notice to terminate the contract. Note that the landlord cannot terminate the contract without any reason.

Damage and Responsibilities

Before you move, ask for an appointment to inspect the apartment with the owner/landlord to check for any damage (scratches, stains, tears, etc.). Write everything down, even minor damage, or you may be charge for the repair or you will not get all your deposit when you leave. The list of flaws and damages you have listed and found must be signed by the owner/landlord.

When you leave the apartment/house, the damage should be check again with the owner or manager. If the house is in a worse state than it was when you moved, the landlord may keep part or all of your deposit. Otherwise, there will be a written document stating there was no damage to the apartment and that the deposit will be repaid in full.

We recommend that you take a friend or fellow American who knows the procedure to avoid linguistic misunderstandings.


Another important part of the contract is the list of keys that were given to you. Make sure you get all the keys that appear in the document. If you lose the keys to your home it will be your responsibility to change the locks, and if you lose a key to common areas, you may also have to pay the new keys of all the neighbors. Be careful not to make copies from any store, as many modern keys are numbered and you will probably need permission from the owner to make a copy.

When you move to your new home it can be a good idea to change the locks because you do not know how many keys are out there for that lock. But you will need the owner's permission to do so.

Utility Bills - Water, Electricity, Gas and Trash

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