Did you know that many lease agreements come with stiff penalties for breaking them? Did you know you can be charged for liquidated damages even if you never occupy the premises (aka two month’s rent plus a lost deposit)?
Did you agree to an increase in sub-metered utility payments payable to your landlord at anytime during your contract?
Did you sign away your right to sue, even if the property owners negligence causes you harm? Some leases also contain language forcing you to sign away your right to jury trial. (Which is an illegal practice I believe).
Parents, and other co-signers – check out your responsibility before you sign the lease!
Lets talk about a couple of scenarios:
You pre-lease an apartment and 6 months before you move-in a change in circumstances requires you to move somewhere else. If you signed the lease and plunked down the security deposit, you have lost the deposit. Some landlords go as far as charging the lease termination fees as well.
Does your lease contains the following language? “Landlord may modify the method by which utilities are furnished to the premises and/or billed to Resident during the term of this Lease Agreement, including, but not limited to sub- metering of the premises for certain utility services or billing Resident for utilities previously included within the rent”. This means that if the landlord decides to add or increase utility charges for your unit, you are obligated to pay them. This is true even if it occurs during the term of your lease. It’s called an escalation clause.
Your kiddo moves into their first college apartment and they ask you to co-sign the lease. One weekend while they are at home visiting you like the good kid they are, the other roommate decides to have a party. The party gets out of hand, the unit gets trashed, and the other roommate moves out. Guess who is on the hook for the other half of the rent and the damages to the unit? Worse yet, guess what happens if the unit goes to eviction status? Many rental agreements are whole-unit, not separate tenant. This means that as a co-signer you are fullly responsible for what happens with the unit should either party default.
These are “big city” practices occurring all over the nation, including small towns. Your best defense? READ THE LEASE BEFORE SIGNING IT! If you will be pressed for time at your move-in, request a blank copy to read before your move-in date. If something is not clear, ASK QUESTIONS.
In addition to reading the lease, you should know your rights as a resident. Every state has some form of Landlord-Tenant Act that spells out both landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities. Under federal law your landlord also has a responsibility to uphold the Fair Housing Act which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. In addition, there are reasonable accommodations that can be made available to those with a disability, including the required acceptance of service animals at no charge.
I’m not an attorney, but I do have 10 years of property management experience in three states. If I can help with any leasing questions, ask away!