Settling on the terms of a lease agreement is a crucial step in the process of renting a home or apartment. You might have spent weeks searching real estate listings to find your dream rental, but you shouldn’t sign anything until you’ve read every line of the contract. To make sure your needs are met, take an active role in the details of the agreement. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

•           Negotiate a deal that works for you. There’s no rule that says you should always accept first offers. Work out a contract that both you and the landlord can benefit from. For example, you could offer to mow the lawn for a discount on rent every month. If you’ve noticed a home that has consistently been available, it may be time to make an offer. The owner may be desperate to get a lease signed.

•           Confirm the structural changes that are allowed to be made to the property. Make sure you can reasonably expect a fair return of the deposit. Clarify this verbally, and make sure it’s written clearly in the contract. Does the agreement, for example, permit the tenant to repaint walls, or punch holes to hang pictures? Minor contractual details such as these are important when it comes to getting your full security deposit returned.

•           Examine the rental unit carefully upon move-in and make sure preexisting damage is discussed. Preferably, schedule an initial walk-through with both parties present. If you do notice any damage, take time-stamped photographs for use as evidence in the event you must ever bring the issue to court.

•           Be aware of security deposit limits. Many apartment companies and property owners require a hefty deposit when a tenant moves in. Depending on your state, there may be laws that set a cap on how much may be charged, so make sure you’re aware of the laws in your area. In many states, including California, the limit is 2 times the monthly rent.

•           Investigate the landlord’s reputation before settling on a place. A combination of good judgment and a bit of research will ensure you find a landlord who is fair and reliable. Working through a real estate agent will better your chances of doing business with the right people. To steer clear of companies with a bad rep, you can utilize reviews and websites that are available online. Even better, try chatting with neighbors and other renters to get a picture of whether the community is satisfied with their management.

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