Apartment living: of leases and landlords

Renting an apartment is a logical choice for many people. Before renting, however, consider these tips on selecting and maintaining a rental unit. It may eliminate a potential hassle later on and even save you money.

Before deciding on an apartment, take a long walk through the apartment itself. Look around carefully and ask questions about the heat, hot water, pest control, and neighboring noises. You might even check the area at different times of the day and night. Examine windows, doors, and locks, plus ground-floor windows and entrance ways for security devices.

Check for adequate ventilation, air conditioning, light fixtures, and electrical outlets. Flush the toilet and run water in the sinks and bathtub in order to check both the flow and drainage. Have dripping faucets fixed, especially if you will be paying the water bill.

Note any visible damage and areas that need repair. Keep a signed copy of the list. When you move, it is wise to compare any damages with those you and the landlord agree you faced when moving in.

When you decide to rent an apartment, it is wise to sign a lease outlining the agreement between both the tenant and the landlord.

Read the lease carefully. If any point seems unclear or unreasonable, discuss it with the landlord. Any changes from the printed lease must be agreed to and initialed by both parties.

Be sure to keep a copy of the signed lease in a safe place until you have moved from the apartment and received any refund of the security deposit to which you are entitled.

The lease should include the following points:

* Financial arrangements, such as how much the rent is and when it is to be paid; amount of any security deposit; a detailed explanation of any penalties for late payment of rent; and by whom the utilities are to be paid.

* Condition of the premises in regard to whether the unit meets local minimum housing code requirements; the tenant's responsibility for leaving the unit in good condition; and whether the landlord has the right of access for inspection.

* Liability for personal property (usually rests with the tenant).

* Can you sublet or transfer the lease to another tenant? If so, must the landlord give his written permission?

* Are pets allowed? Are additional deposits required?

Rental agreements are generally not permitted by local laws to include such things as (1) a waiver of the landlord's responsibility for injury caused by his or her actions or the actions of employees to other people; (2) a claim that the tenant must pay the landlord's legal fees and court costs in the event of a trial; or (3) a waiver of the tenant's rights to the full application of all local housing codes.

The tenant may be required to deposit with the landlord at the time of signing the lease an amount of money which generally varies from a half month's rent to two months' rent.

When you vacate an apartment, the landlord usually must return to you the full amount of the deposit or justify in writing why he is keeping all or part of the money.

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