Thursday, May 5, 2011

Most leases result in satisfied owners and happy tenants.   Unfortunately, a few do not go well.  The vast majority of those few problems come down to a mismatch of expectations between the landlord and the occupants.   Not all home leases are alike and, like most agreements, assumptions will cause trouble.    
It is CRITICAL that renters read their lease and raise any questions or objections before move-in.   The most common expectations are outlined below but, please, read your lease document and make sure you can commit to everything that’s required of you and the obligations of the property owner meet your expectations.
You expect a home that is clean and everything works properly.  You will want problems fixed right away.   Repairs are the owner’s obligation, within the lease and under the law.  Be reasonable about those that don’t pose an immediate danger or significant nuisance, but insist on quick correction for those that do.
Generally you are taking the home As Is.    Be sure it is what you are willing to live with before you sign the lease.  Any updates or changes to the home that you expect from the owner must be clearly defined in the lease agreement.   Verbal understandings are a common cause of disputes.  If you want to make changes on your own, get specific permission from the owner in writing.
Quiet enjoyment.  That means you should be free from any inspections or other impositions by the owner or the owner’s agent that are not defined in the lease – as long as you are meeting the terms of the lease.    It does not mean that the owner can’t do occasional inspections for mechanical or maintenance issues.  Those should be reasonable and if there is any doubt about what is or isn’t reasonable, be sure it is defined in the lease.  Owners can investigate if they have reasonable cause to believe the terms of the lease are being violated…so don’t give them a reason!     Be aware that, once you give notice that you are not renewing your lease, your lease is likely to require that you allow showings of the home to prospective renters, usually only in the last 30 or 60 days you live there.  
You will want your Deposit returned when you move out.   To ensure that happens, make sure you understand your maintenance requirements, treat the home “gently”, keep it clean, and report any issues that do arise immediately.   Anything that is not as it was when you moved in is likely to reduce the amount of deposit that is returned.   Wall repairs are a very frequent need at the end of a lease.  The best way to minimize surprises on the deposit is to do a thorough walkthrough with the owner or agent at move-in to document any problems that might look like you caused them at move-out.   Finally, make sure you know about any obligations upon move out, such as professional carpet cleaning. 

Owners want their investment protected and need enough rent to cover their mortgage and, sometimes a little profit.   Most have primary goal of long term return on investment.   Damage to a home will quickly offset any profits so excellent care of the house is critical. 
Be honest.  The owner accepts your lease based on the information you provide when you apply.  Any false or misleading or withheld information will be a problem.   For example, moving in people or pets that were not on the lease is never ok without the owner’s permission and an amendment to the lease.   Pets are, unfortunately, the most common problem.    They can cause a Lot of damage in seconds and may make the house unsuitable for future tenants with allergies.   It is never ok to have a pet in the home without written permission in the lease.  Never.
Pay the rent on time.   Owners have to have that cash to cover their commitments.   You are not allowed to withhold the rent because of unresolved problems with the house.  Please see your lease for the proper way to get problems resolved.  Also, it is never permissible to use the security deposit as the last month’s rent.
Report any structural or mechanical problems immediately so they can be corrected before they cause further damage.   Water, gas or electrical problems are crucial, even if they aren’t directly causing you a problem.
Respect the neighbors and neighborhood regulations.  Many rental houses are in areas with Home Owners Associations.   The owner must comply with those rules therefore you need to make sure you know about them and follow them.   Even if there is no HOA, neighbors will expect you to keep the house and surroundings clean and free of clutter and avoid any disturbances.
Leave the house just the way you found it.   It is difficult to remove dirt and correct problems that accumulate over time so it is important to maintain everything all the time.   A simple example is keeping the furnace filter changed.
Keep your lease commitment.   The term of the lease is very important.  Leaving early has significant penalties because it costs the owner a lot of money to re-lease the home.   Most people move during the summer months so owners do not want their properties vacated during the winter, resulting in long periods with no rental income. 

As stated above, the most important thing to do is read your lease thoroughly and negotiate any issues Up Front, not when a problem occurs.    As long as both owner and renter are literally “on the same page”, the rental experience will be stress free for both parties.

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