Just over a month ago my husband and I sat down in a tiny office, signed some paperwork, wrote a big check, and were handed two shiny little golden keys for our efforts. Keys to our new home. It was also our first experience renting a home. We bought our last home eight years ago and had been living there until a new job opportunity sent us trekking several states north. Since we are not sure how long we are going to be here we decided to rent for awhile.
Getting those keys was pretty exciting. We, which includes me, my husband, our two small children, one large dog and two cats, had been inhabiting a small (and ugly) hotel room for a week. Everything we owned was snuggly stored in a U-Haul truck (and a trailer, I’ll get to that story later) parked in the lot of this hotel. Those keys meant that I would have my own bedroom again, a kitchen, my own washer and dryer, and possibly even a dishwasher (a novelty our previous home could not brag about).
However, even in just signing the paperwork we ran into a few confused moments. The rental company did not seem to understand what pets we had, what utility companies serviced the area and even had the wrong address on nearly all of the paperwork. This should have been a sign, but I kept holding on the great optimistic view that we had a place to live. When we arrived at the house later that night and I got my first look around (my husband had found the place before we joined him) I began to wonder just what it was we had gotten ourselves into. The house is nestled on a dirt road on the edge of what can only be jokingly called a ‘town’. I found mouse pellets in the kitchen drawers, the walls were peppered with old nails never properly taken down, none of the doors or windows seemed to open or close properly, it was dirty and smelled funny. And this was what we found just on the first night, I continue to find fascinating little ‘quirks’ (the most recent, and fun, was the left over Crime Scene tape stuck to the top of the front door).
We were desperate to find a place to live and dove right into the deep end of this pool without first checking the temperature of the water. So today I am writing this to help you get all of the information before signing a lease.
Make sure you really understand what signing this lease is going to cost you. Not just the monthly rent, that is usually pretty obvious, however, there are often lots of other little hidden expenses that will be due when you sign the lease, and possibly more later on.
Applications: A lot of companies will require you fill out an application and will run a background and credit check, a ‘processing fee’ is usually included in this application process. For our company each tenant over the age of 18 had to fill one out, and each application was $30. This can quickly add up.
Deposits: Traditionally the first month’s rent is due at the signing of the lease and so is the Security Deposit. This deposit is supposed to be held by the landlord and used only to repair any damages that you cause during your stay, if no repair work is done it is returned to you when you leave. The amount of the deposit can vary, but is often the same as one month’s rent, having pets will typically result in either a raise in the rent or the deposit (or both). We had to pay the first months rent, and the equivalent of two more months rent for a deposit since we had pets. In addition we had to pay an additional deposit for the propane, in case we left the house without filling the propane tank back up. This adds up very quickly…
Down the road: Just in case you should also make sure you are clear about what happens when the rent is not sent in on time. Are there late fees, a grace period, and what legal action is taken and how soon is it taken? Knowing the penalties for breaking a lease can also be beneficial knowledge to keep logged away for future reference.
What is required of you: Make sure you understand what responsibilities you as the tenant have toward the property. Will you need to mow the yard, shovel snow, replace furnace filters, etc? Find out what kind of penalties are involved if you do not live up to these as well, so you won’t get blindsided by fees.
What is required of them: Likewise understand what kind of repairs will be covered by the landlord. Find out how you need to report any maintenance requests. It might also be nice to know just how quickly they typically respond to requests, and if there is a special way to report emergency requests. So when a tree crashes into the roof at 3am you are prepared.
Inspections: Checking to see what inspections have been done on the house prior to you moving in might also at lease provide some sound of mind that the house will not fall down around you. Some companies also require regular inspections of the premises, so find out if any will be required of your property.
*Author’s Note: I would also advise taking lots of pictures of the home as soon as you move in, preferably before moving in too much of your stuff. Documenting the condition when you move in might help in any disputes over the condition when you move out.
Utilities are often the sole responsibility of the tenant but make sure of that. The last thing you need is some confusion on this issue and having your power turned off while trying to unpack. The rental company should be able to provide you with a list of local utility companies and their contact information to get everything switched over to your name. You might also ask if they know what typical bills looked like for the last tenant, while your actual outage might be different it should at least give you an idea when trying to budget for the new home.
Be honest to the company about what pets you currently own, and make sure you are clear on what the property allows in case you decide to add a pet later. You should also check the city ordinances on pets, especially if you own a pet that someone might consider ‘dangerous’. This is one of the areas we failed on and ended up having to send our dog, a Doberman (and the sweetest dog I have probably met for the record), to a family friend in another state because that breed is not allowed in our city, reptiles are also officially on the banned list as well, as a side note.
You might want to consider doing a little research on the neighborhood before signing the lease. Asking the rental company might be helpful if they are very familiar with the area, and are feeling very honest with you that day. Doing a little personal reconnaissance might give you a better idea though. Go take a drive up to the house, late afternoon or early evening is a good time as many residents are home then. Check out what the road conditions look like, mailbox placements, how close the homes are, take in clues from what is in people’s yards or their driveways to get an idea of who might live there (small families, older kids, younger single people, etc…) and decide if the area is somewhere you are going to fit in and feel comfortable.
Even after all the bumps we ran into getting ourselves moved into this rental unit I will admit that if I had it to do over again I might still have picked this house. Despite it’s problems the monthly rent is great, there is plenty of space and I actually am finding I do not mind living twenty minutes away from… anything… However, if I had taken the time to get all of the information about the house before signing by the ‘X’ I could have saved myself a hectic juggling act of moving funds around to cover all the unexpected expenses, and a few nights of tossing and turning as we second guessed our decision. Hopefully this will help you settle more soundly into your next home.
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