Reading the Fine Print: What Is in Your Lease?

So you think you found the perfect place. Congrats! But before you rush to sign on the dotted line, take a nice hard look at your lease agreement. As a renter, you are often put at a legal disadvantage. If there is trouble down the road, it all comes down to your lease. Read on for some common lease pitfalls to look out for to make sure you are well protected.

Check the Renewal

Leases have a variety of renewal policies. Most leases need 30, 60 or 90 day renewal notice before the lease ends. If you miss the cut off date, you may forfeit your renewal rights, and your landlord can raise your rent at a rate higher than outlined in your lease. If you miss the deadline you may even end up stranded without a place to live. On the other hand, if you want to move out at the end of your lease, making note of the renewal cut off date is just as important. If you don't give your landlord the amount of notice stipulated in your rental agreement, they can withhold your security deposit.


Your renewal agreement will also outline how much your landlord can raise your rent each year. Most cities have set legal limits for how much property owners can raise rents annually. Consult your local housing laws to make sure that the rate in your lease is within the legal threshold. Certain cities enforce rent control to protect renters, so be sure you know your rights before signing a contract.

Most leases are for 12 months and require an annual renewal. However, some leases will "auto renew" as a month to month lease after the first year, which is advantageous to renters and gives you more flexibility for moving out in the future. This is something you can ask your landlord to consider if it is not already in your lease.

Finding new tenants is costly for landlords, and it is in their best interest to have reliable, respectful long-term tenants. If you are really committed to your apartment, you may want to offer to sign an 18-month lease in exchange for a slight discount in rent or additional perks, such as an additional parking space. An 18-month lease can be advantageous to renters living in competitive housing markets. If you suspect that rents will increase a year from now, locking down a lower rent for 18 months will save you money in the long term.

Air Conditioner Pitfalls

Landlords may not permit air conditioners if the building is older and has poor electrical wiring. Air conditioners require a large amount of power and can short circuit a building if it is not wired properly. To combat this, some landlords will limit the number of air conditioning units allowed per apartment. Other landlords will not allow window ACs on high floors and will require tenants to purchase standing units that connect to the window via a hose. These units are much more expensive and take up an enormous amount of floor space.


If you are allowed a window unit, some landlords will require it to be installed by a professional because of the potential liability of a falling AC unit. Renters can face hundreds of dollars in fines for installing their own unit, so be sure to check the fine print before attempting to DIY your own climate control. If you live in a hot climate, be sure to ask about your building's air conditioner policy before signing the lease, or else risk sweating your brains out all summer.

Subletting and Guests

Subletting is a great way to save money if you are going on a long trip. However, many landlords are wary of unapproved residents living on their property. Some landlords may allow you to sublet as much as you want, while others will need to meet the subletter and draw up a short-term rental agreement for the duration of their stay. Other landlords may ban subletting completely. Though you may be able to get away with renting out your room for a month or two, if your lease strictly forbids it, subletting your apartment could constitute a breach of contract, leaving you in a vulnerable position, leading to fines or even eviction.


Landlords often also put limits on how long guests can stay on the property continuously, in order to avoid "guests" unofficially establishing residency.

As a renter it is important to know your rights. Avoid signing a lease on the spot and instead take your time combing through the clauses, looking for potential pitfalls and loopholes. If your landlord makes trouble for you down the road, all of your rights will be spelled out in your lease. Still on the market for your perfect place? Browse our rental listings to find options in your city.

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