5 Things to Review on Your Lease

If you're ready to rent a place, you'll want to carefully review a few things on the lease before you sign on that last line.
If you're ready to rent a place, you'll want to carefully review a few things on the lease before you sign on that last line.
Pete Gardner/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Prior to the real estate bust and quickly ensuing Financial Meltdown of 2008, everyone, it seemed, owned a home, was buying a home -- or wanted to buy one. The popular wisdom asserted that home ownership constituted the very foundation of the American Dream. Once you'd gone deep into debt for a mortgage on a McMansion, "you'd arrived." On the other hand, to rent the roof over your head was like tossing money into a luxury apartment's gas fireplace. Or so the prevailing sentiment went at the time.

Post-crash, the many advantages of renting are much easier to appreciate: Renting gives you the mobility to move around and follow opportunity; major maintenance and repairs fall upon the landlord, not you; and as a renter, you don't have to sweat (as much) about skyrocketing property taxes or plummeting property values.

Renting can seem like an obvious choice in an age where so many former constants in life, like steady employment, are no longer guaranteed. Renting may be someone's only choice after a run of hard financial luck or if too brief a credit history makes it impossible to qualify for a mortgage.

If you're about to rent a place -- whatever the reason -- you'll want to check a few things on the lease before you sign on that fateful last signature line. The patchwork of landlord-tenant laws throughout the 50 states and numerous local ordinances mean that landlords have plenty of opportunities to present leases with invalid or downright illegal clauses for where you live. You can avoid onerous extra payments and strike lots of other tenant-hostile provisions if you take time to learn your rights as a tenant and review the lease before signing.

If the landlord (or property management company) refuses to modify the lease when you raise objections, you do have the option to walk away. If other renters are clawing at local listings like zombies on the living in a George A. Romero film, you might consider how inflexible you wish to be with any particular clause.

That said, you have your legal rights as a tenant (and as a potential tenant) and you you should be aware of them. In that spirit, we present these 5 things to review on your lease. Keep them in mind next time you rent -- because your hard-earned money is a terrible thing to waste...on legal fees!

And just an aside to all the legal eagles out there -- nothing in this article is meant to substitute for qualified legal advice. If you have an issue that requires the advice or services of an attorney, get one. Furthermore, wide variations in state and local laws mean that material in this article may apply in some areas, but be invalid in others. Consider these tips to be "for informational purposes" and check your state and local rental laws before you jump into a lease.