With the housing market still in the midst of its slump and housing foreclosures continuing to soar, many former homeowners are turning for either the first time or for the first time in decades to the rental market.
Many of these new renters will be asked to sign a document that they've either never seen or haven't viewed for years: a rental lease. It's important for new renters to understand exactly what a lease is and the expectations it sets for both landlord and renter.
Fortunately, most apartment leases follow a basic formula. And understanding the terms of a lease require little more on the part of renters than the patience to read through the fine print.
It's important to understand that an apartment lease is a legal contract. It will list how much rent tenants have to pay each month and will list a specific period -- usually a year -- that the renters are allowed to stay in their apartment. In most cases, renters will have the chance to renew their lease by signing a new contract when their current lease agreement ends.
A lease also spells out any penalties that renters will face for paying their monthly rents late. Renters should read this section of the lease carefully. Penalties for late or missing rent can include eviction.
Eviction is an important matter, and a standard apartment lease should list what violations may result in it. Landlords may be able to start the eviction processif the resident fails to pay their rent.
Leases should also list the security deposit that renters are required to put down -- often equal to one monthworth of rent -- and what utility bills renters are responsible for paying. Last month's rent is also typically required upfront. This fee is then applied at the end of the lease terms. Leases might also list other general rules, including the schedule for garbage pick-up, whether pets are allowed and whether the building is a non-smoking property.
It's important for renters to study their leases carefully before signing them. When both renters and landlords are equally clear on their rights and responsibilities, the chance of future disagreements is dramatically reduced.