There is one question I would ask after every lease-in (I don’t get to because my hubby does the lease-ins):
Where are you going to KEEP YOUR LEASE?
I find it perplexing that so many tenants seem to think their lease is something they sign (or with us, sit in our living room with a glass of water or tea, read page by page initialing each of them, then sign. Twice!) to obtain a key.
After that they seem to think it doesn’t matter any more.
It does matter. Very much.
Keep your lease in a safe place like you would any other legal document. Then give a copy to your mother, your brother, your boss and/or your safety deposit box, somewhere you can get your hands on it if you can’t find yours. As a last resort, your landlord will have a copy.
Please understand that we rent our privately-owned duplexes and single family homes; the rules and regulations we have as part of our lease have been accumulated through experience. An apartment complex is different; the management is probably not going to quibble much about whether or not the washer in the bathroom sink will be replaced by the tenant or the complex: the complex generally hires maintenance people to do that type of work.
Still, know what you can and cannot do in the way of maintenance, decor, or general upkeep. It will be spelled out in your lease. One apartment complex I lived in charged $1.50 for every light bulb in the apartment that was burned out when we moved out. They were very serious about what that lease said, down to the light in the refrigerator. Guess how I learned that one.
When issues arise, refer to the lease! Your landlord will. It’s not wrong or unfair or mean of him to do so. You both signed the document. The only thing that can legally change it must be in writing. Don’t rely on verbal mish-mash because if you ever watch Judge Judy, or Joe Brown, or Alex, or whomever else is out there doing “justice” for entertainment, this part is true: a verbal agreement will not supercede a written agreement. It’s the stuff in writing that counts.
So say your faucet leaks after you’ve been there three months. What should you do? What happens if you start to see bugs? Who is responsible?
First we’re assuming you’ve read the Landlord/Tenant Act for your state and know what is spelled out there in regards to your rights and responsibilities. After that:
1) READ THE LEASE. Ours says that after the first month any drips are your responsibility to have repaired. Same with pests. Under some circumstances we have waived this so next you should,
2) ASK QUESTIONS. If the lease is unclear then ask what the landlord wants you to do. If you want to try to negotiate something other than what is in the lease, it never hurts to ask. Nicely. Some landlords like tenants who care for a property as if it were their own. Others prefer to make sure the job is done right by a professional. It is within a landlord’s right, provided it was agreed in the lease document, to have the job done and charge you for it. This is why reading and understanding the lease is so very important.
3) PUT IT IN WRITING. If there is no clear-cut answer to your question in the lease and you call your landlord to find out what to do, record the conversation in writing. Keep it brief and to the point and keep a copy of the correspondence. (Preferably in the file with your lease.) This is also true if you have negotiated a change from your rental agreement. In that case, your landlord should provide the letter, but if he doesn’t, write it yourself.
Here’s an example of how such a letter might read:
Dear Mr. Landlord,
Pursuant to our conversation of May 32, 2020, as I understand it, I have been authorized by you to hire a plumber to fix the hot water faucet at the bathroom sink which has recently started to leak. The cost of the repair will then be deducted from my rent payment for the month of July, and I will provide you with the receipt for the work that was done.
Should you have question, comment or concern regarding this letter, please contact me before (the date the plumber is coming).
If there is any future memory lapse regarding your incident and what you were given permission to do, you have the documentation to fall back on.
Lastly, your lease becomes all-important when you decide it’s time to move. Before you look for the next place or pack a single box, READ THE LEASE to find out such important things as:
- WHEN DOES MY LEASE END? (It is probably a good idea to mark that date on your calendar when you sign in!)
- Does my lease renew? For how long?
- How much notice am I required to give before vacating?
- For what will I be responsible if I am leaving before my lease term is finished?
- Where do I return the keys?
- When is the exit inspection done?
- What must I do to get my security deposit back? (Our tenants must request the return of the security deposit in writing and provide a forwarding address where we can mail the deposit and/or deduction list within 30 days of vacating the unit, as per the Landlord/Tenant Act.)
- When can I have the utilities turned off?
Yes, the home is not yours; you have more freedom to come and go than a homeowner does. Still, you SIGNED A LEASE, which means you can’t just pick up and go any time you like without consequences.
If you want to leave on good terms with your landlord (and get a good reference in the process) it is crucial to refer to your lease and live up to your agreement.
Keep your lease. Know what it says. You’ll save yourself a headache, and perhaps even some money.
Any “advice” that is offered here is not legal advice. It is more of the common sense variety that your grandmother might offer and therefore should not be relied upon as qualified legalese.
Next up, next week: when should you read your lease?