When you find a house you love, your first instinct is to sign the lease as quickly as possible before someone else snaps up the place.
It’s common for people to ignore the fine print mainly because they don’t know how important it is. Many of us don’t like reading through contracts because they are often long, boring, and complicated.
Additionally, we have unscrupulous landlords and realtors who rush or intimidate potential tenants into signing a contract without fully understanding its contents.
Consequently, it’s easy to skip the fine print on a rental agreement and sign it, only to get into trouble afterward.
What (and where) is the fine print in rental agreements?
The fine print contains disclosures and conditions that will affect your rental tenure and is located at the end of the contract.
In fact, many disputes arise from not adhering to conditions specified in the fine print because they are overlooked simply for being part of the footnote.
For example, the fine print may contain a “no pet clause” that you are unaware of, which will earn you a fine for bringing animals on the premises.
Therefore, when you receive a rental contract, you must read and understand all of it before signing.
10 factors to watch out for in a rental agreements and fine print
Many landlords give you 30 days to sign the agreement which is enough time to verify its contents, including the fine print and sign (if it feels right).
If you decide to go over your lease contract yourself, here are some essential details to look out for.
1. Is your lease agreement complete?
An incomplete rental contract is null and void even if you sign it. And that means you cannot use it to pursue a legal case against your landlord in the future.
A complete rental contract has the following details;
- Address of the property
- The rental amount
- Duration/length of the lease.
- Start date
These and other lease terms are essential for the establishment of a legal tenancy agreement.
Ensure they are included in your contract to protect your interests throughout the tenancy period.
2. Have you signed it correctly?
There are ways to sign a contract that, if not followed, will nullify it.
Ensure your signature and your landlord’s is present.
Keep in mind that all tenants above the age of 18 should sign a rental agreement. Therefore, if you are moving in as a couple, expect to sign the contract together.
Otherwise, whoever signs it is expected to comply with the terms and conditions.
3. Are there illegal clauses?
It is possible to sign a contract that contains illegal clauses if you are unaware of what to expect.
Examples of illegal clauses in lease agreements
- Your landlord may include a clause saying you are responsible for repairs when the law requires them to do it.
- Are you expected to pay rent for the remaining period of a rental period even if you move out before it ends? The law only requires tenants to pay rent for as long as they live in the rental property.
You need a real estate lawyer to point out such clauses and prevent you from signing into something unfair, which is likely to cost you in the future.
4. Look out for a waiver of notice
Did you know that your landlord does not have to give you notice before terminating your rental arrangement if your contract includes a waiver of notices?
Usually, the end date is specified in the rental contract, and you as the tenant are expected to have it in mind.
Therefore, if you do not renew your contract in time, you may end up incurring penalties, which in some cases, are charged as daily rates for any extra days you stay in the rental.
You may also suffer rental increments for the new rental period based on the contract terms.
Look out for such clauses and agree with your landlord on the amount by which to increase your rent in advance or the course of action to take at the end of a rental period.
That way, a rental increment or penalties for overstaying will not catch you by surprise.
5. Are there disguised clauses?
Rental contracts are not as simple as they seem, even when they are in the standard format.
It is easy for a landlord to disguise a clause under a different name masking its seriousness.
For example, you may find a landlord disguising extra rental payments in a late payment clause. If your rent is $400, but your landlord charges you a penalty of $25 for paying your rent later than the 7th.
The law only allows your landlord to collect rental payment penalties after thirty days. Paying your rent a few days late does not give your landlord the right to charge you extra rent.
Look out for such clauses in your rental contract fine print.
6. Who will pay for the utilities?
Your contract should specify whether utilities such as electricity, sewerage, garbage collection, and water, are included in the rental price or not.
If unspecified in the rental contract, it may lead to unexpected surprises at the end of the month.
Landlords sometimes inflate utility bills if they act as an intermediary between you and the utility company.
If you must pay for utilities, get into a contract with the utility company directly.
7. Do you get your security deposit back?
The rental contract should specify the amount of the security deposit and what happens to it when you vacate the rentals.
Your landlord should refund your security deposit in full unless you are responsible for damages or missing items, in which case their cost is deducted from it.
If your rental contract has a re-delivery of premises clause, you can expect part of it to pay for anything you damage in the apartment unless you come to a separate agreement with your landlord.
In some cases, if your deposit is not enough to pay for damages, your landlord may sue you for the remaining amount.
Look out for the clause in your contract that specifies when you get your security deposit back and any deductions you can expect to avoid nasty surprises.
8. Are you allowed to sublet?
Many of us are looking for ways to share living spaces and cut down on rental expenses. And in other cases, we may invite friends over to stay in a bid to save them from paying rent.
In both cases, your landlord will interpret these arrangements as subletting. Landlords have the right to know when you sublet your rental to someone else as a way of keeping abreast of people who live on their property.
Subletting without your landlord’s written consent can lead to the termination of your tenancy or an unexpected rental increment.
Read the fine print and agree with your landlord about subletting before you do it to avoid such occurrences.
9. What is the situation with repairs?
Many landlords require a lot of pressure to repair broken-down items in the property, such as heating or plumbing.
But the law requires them to repair and maintain their rentals in habitable condition.
However, some rental disclaimers protect landlords from liability for property damage such as leakages, faulty electricity, and falling plaster.
Unfortunately, if you do not check the fine print, such clauses will pass the repair charges to you, even when you are not responsible for them.
The best cause of action is to note any areas in disrepair or substandard condition on an inspection form and ensure they are repaired before you move in.
10. Are there unusual clauses?
Some contracts have unusual stipulations in the disclaimer section, mainly surrounding rules and regulations you must follow as a tenant.
A good example is a clause that insists you park your vehicle at your own risk in the residential parking lot. This absolves the landlord of any responsibility if your car is stolen or damaged while on the premises.
Other rules and regulations that may seem unfair or weird are those that;
- Prohibit the use of your backyard for parties
- Prevent you from repainting the house in your preferred colors
- Keep you from changing the locks in your home without the landlord’s permission
- Specify the breed of pet you can have at your place and how much it should weigh
- Prohibit you from affixing any TV or radio antenna over the property or near it.
These clauses may seem unnecessarily prohibitory, but they are there and often hidden in the fine print.
It’s time to read the fine print of your rental agreement!
These are examples of the many unfair lease terms you can find in the fine print of your rental agreement. The only way to beat them is to read the whole rental contract (including the fine print) and negotiate with the landlord.
Find a reliable and experienced real estate lawyer to help you understand your rental contract if it contains complicated, unclear, or downright unfair clauses..
Before you sign on the dotted line beneath the “I have read and agree to Terms and Conditions”, consider the above factors and ensure you understand your contract thoroughly.
Remember, nothing you verbally agree on with your landlord is legally binding. The rental contract is the best way to secure your rights.