Signing a Lease or Rental Agreement FAQ

Are there lease or rental agreement terms that a renter should look out for?

Yes, be wary of signing a lease or rental agreement with the following provisions:

  • Shared utility meters. Try to have the bill put in your name, and make sure your bill covers only your utility charges.
  • Automatic rent increases. Avoid provisions that allow the landlord to raise the rent if operating costs, taxes, or utilities increase.
  • Future rules of landlord. Don't agree to obey future rules of the landlord -- they may be unduly restrictive.

The following provisions are even worse -- so bad that a court would probably not enforce them. But it's best to ask your landlord to remove them from the lease or rental agreement before you sign it.

  • Provisions absolving the landlord in advance of any liability for carelessness. Most courts will refuse to enforce these clauses (often identified as "hold harmless" clauses), but try to get them out of your rental document anyway.
  • Provisions allowing the landlord unrestricted entry. Many states control how, when, and for what purpose a landlord may enter. In such states, a clause to the contrary would not be enforced -- and in any state, such license is an unreasonable intrusion on a tenant's privacy.

Before you sign the lease or rental agreement, be sure you understand all of its terms. Also, never let your landlord fill in details in the lease later -- make sure all blanks are filled in when you sign it. And be sure to get a copy of the lease immediately after you and the landlord sign it.

For all the legal and practical information you need to deal with your landlord, see Every Tenant's Legal Guide, by Janet Portman and Marcia Stewart (Nolo).

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