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Renting an Apartment : Negotiating a Lease

The first time you look over a lease agreement, you may want to have some Tylenol ready. It'll be packed with tiny, tiny words, thousands of them, and many of them in Latin, or Greek, or maybe they're English. We don't know – we just know that they're inscrutable (that means “hard to understand”).

When it comes right down to it, though, a lease is a pretty basic contract. It lays out the conditions of a rental agreement, both for the owner and the renter. Among the details listed in a standard lease are:

  • How much money is involved
  • When you have to pay
  • What kind of deposit is required
  • How long the agreement is for
  • What happens if one of you breaks the lease
  • Who pays the utilities
  • Whether pets are allowed

Read your lease carefully before you sign it, because you'll be the hook for whatever's in there. Of course, there are exceptions, such as any conditions that are unfair or unenforceable, or any wording that tries to force you to pay for repairs that the landlord is responsible for. For the most part, though, expect that you'll be held responsible for the terms of any standard lease.

Oh, and make sure you keep a copy of the lease for your records. You'll be glad you did if there's ever a dispute over what you can or can't do.

Other things to know about leases:

  • Cosigners: If the landlord doesn't think you'll be able to make your payments, you may need to get a cosigner. Take this seriously – if you do default, your cosigner will be responsible for the rent.

  • Giving notice: You have to give the landlord notice if you're moving out, and he has to give you notice if he wants to end the lease or raise your rent. Generally speaking, that notice is 30 days for a monthly rent.

  • Breaking a lease: Don't do it if you can avoid it -- a lease is a contract, and there are penalties for breaking the terms. Make sure you know what those penalties are, and only break the lease if you can handle the ramifications.

  • Security deposit: You may need to put down a security deposit to cover any unpaid rent or damages you cause. This money must be refunded within 30 days of the end of the rental agreement, though the landlord can deduct the cost of any repairs, other than maintenance from normal wear and tear. A landlord can require any amount for a security deposit.

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