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Read Terms Carefully Before Signing a Lease
By Marcela Cartagena
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- To rent an apartment, experts say the first and most important thing to do is to read and understand the lease to avoid conflicts between the renter and landlord.
"A lease is a binding contract between the renter and the landlord," said Dr. Frances Graham, housing specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Before signing a lease, the person must read the entire lease and understand it, because once they sign it they have agreed to accept the landlord's rules."
One problem people often have with written contracts is that they may be hard to understand because of complicated or unclear wording.
For example, a portion of a lease contract may state "tenants acknowledge that the premises are in good order and repair at this time." This should be rewritten to read, "premises are in good order and repair except the items listed on attachment A." A damage sheet should then be attached, Graham said.
"Some people go through contracts carefully, others don't read them at all, and still more don't totally understand them," she said. "If you don't understand the contract, seek help understanding the terms."
Graham said the renter should be aware of several things before signing a contract.
Determine the deposit required and under what terms it will be returned -- if deposit money will be used to cover damages, or to pay a month's rent if the renter fails to pay or leaves before the lease ends. Landlords may also use the deposit money to pay late rent fees.
Some landlords have more restrictions than others. They may set a maximum number of people who can live or stay in the dwelling, and others may not let people take in special furniture, such as water beds.
Graham said tenants should know if they can do such things as hang pictures or wall paper and bring pets. They should find out about laundry facilities and determine who pays the utilities and other accommodations.
It is very important to know if subleasing is allowed. Subleasing is when the original tenant moves and a new tenant assumes the lease before it ends. The lease contract should state these conditions.
Most landlords have keys to the dwelling. The lease contract should state when landlords can enter the apartment. The contract also should state if rent can be increased, how much advance notice will be given.
Graham said renters are responsible to keep apartments in good condition. Damages to a rental unit such as punching holes in the wall or breaking a window or door are the renters' responsibility to repair. If they fail to assume these responsibilities, the person can lose the deposit.
Damages to the renters' personal property caused by such things as tornadoes, fire and theft, are the renters' responsibility. Graham suggested getting insurance for these situations.
If the tenant keeps all terms and conditions of the lease, the deposit should be refunded at the end of the lease.