What is a lease?
A lease is a written agreement or contract, between the tenant and landlord. A lease usually includes the following:
- The rental amount charged per month.
- The date when the rent is due each month. (You should confirm how the landlord expects payment; hand-delivered, mailed, direct deposited…)
- The deposit amount, and perhaps conditions that would preclude getting that amount back when you move out.
- How long this rental agreement is valid. In other words, the amount you pay each month will not change for this length of time and you commit to renting for at least this length of time. Lease agreements usually require a six or 12 month commitment, but for a higher monthly rent can sometimes be negotiated on a month-to-month basis.
- The utilities you are expected to pay.
- How much notice you must give before moving out. Most lease agreements stipulate a 30-day notice by the tenant and/or the landlord, meaning that you cannot move out and the landlord cannot ask you to move out without a 30-day written notice.
- Rules and expectations (such as no pets, no smoking, noise after a certain hour, etc.).
- Services the landlord agrees to perform (such as yard work or repairs).
- Any other conditions you and the landlord agree to.
Your lease is a legal, binding contract—make sure you read it carefully and understand it before signing.
Often the landlord will require payment of the first and last month’s rent up front. If you move out before the end of the lease, you will likely lose the money you paid for the last month, or even have to pay rent to cover however many months are left in the lease term, even though you have already moved out. This protects the landlord from lost income when you do not complete the agreed upon terms.
Sometimes tenants that are faced with breaking a lease can negotiate a sub-lease, and rent their unit to someone else for the rest of the term. You would still have responsibility for the lease you signed and any damages or costs incurred during your lease term, but if someone else subleased the property from you, at least you would have their monthly payments to cover your rental obligation. You would want to ensure that the person you subleased to followed all the same rules you agreed to in your original lease. Not all lease agreements allow for subleasing though, so check your lease contract first.
Do all lease agreements require a long-term commitment?
Some landlords rent by the month, referred to as a “month-to-month” lease. This kind of arrangement works well when you need a place to live temporarily or are not sure where you want to settle. The monthly rent will typically be higher when you agree on a month-to-month lease, and there is no guarantee that it will not increase in any given month, since your term only guarantees that month. Even with month-to-month lease, you must still comply to the rules and stipulations of the landlord and provider sufficient advance notice before moving out.
What if I have problems with my landlord?
If you do not feel your landlord is keeping up their part of the lease agreement or otherwise making your rental term difficult, you should contact the student legal service on campus or request help from the Community Legal Aid Society. (Type this into Google to find a service near you.)
What is a deposit?
A deposit is a sum of money paid to the landlord (homeowner) as a guarantee of “good faith.” It basically indicates your intention to keep up your end of the rental agreement. If, when you move out, you have incurred any damages that will need repair; the landlord can withhold your original deposit to pay for the damages and prepare the unit for a new tenant.
Be very accurate in completing any forms that describe the condition of your rental property when you move in so that you are not held responsible for any pre-existing defects or damages from previous tenants.
If you leave the room, house or apartment in good condition and clean it thoroughly before you move out, the landlord or apartment manager should return most or all of the deposit within 30 days.
Most landlords require a 30-day notice of your intention to move out. If you move out in less than 30 days, you will likely lose either all or part of your deposit because the landlord will not have that income while finding a new tenant. Sometimes, landlords will agree to refund your deposit if you find a suitable tenant to move in to avoid any gap in monthly rental income.