Understanding the terms of your lease is critical because your lease is a legally binding contract.
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Before you sign on the dotted line, you need to talk with your landlord, research the neighborhood, or even speak to other residents to make sure you’re comfortable with committing to the apartment. A year is a long time to live in a building with an unresponsive manager, a no-overnight guest policy, or run-down unit. Take careful consideration when committing to a tenant/landlord relationship by knowing your rights and where you stand.
1. Examine the Property
Carefully examine the room or apartment you are interested in renting and the property in general. Be wary of promises that a property in bad condition will be in good condition by the time you are to occupy it.
2. Verbal Promises
If the landlord makes verbal promises, ask that these promises be put in writing so that there are no misunderstandings in the future. If a landlord refuses to do this, then you know that the promise may be meaningless.
3. Get Receipts
Never give cash without receiving a signed receipt. If you can’t read the signature, ask the landlord to print his or her name below the signature.
Don’t give the landlord a deposit for the first month’s rent unless you are sure that you want the place. If you change your mind, the landlord is not responsible for returning your deposit.
5. Know your Status
Be sure to know whether you are a roomer or a tenant and the implications of each classification. A roomer is someone who rents a single room and may have access to a bathroom and a kitchen. In Baltimore City, a roomer is entitled to a 30-day written notice if the owner wants the roomer to leave. A tenant is someone who rents an entire apartment or house. In Baltimore, a tenant must be given a 60-day written notice if the landlord wants to change the terms of the tenancy or terminate the tenancy.
6. Tenant Responsibilities
The tenant should pay the rent on time and treat the landlord’s property with care. Unless there is a stated grace period, the landlord can file suit in rent court against a tenant if the tenant is one day late in paying the rent. (Late charges are limited to five percent of monthly rent.) The landlord can also hold the tenant responsible for any damages to the property. Ask the landlord for information regarding trash pick up and recycling procedures. Clarify who is responsible for keeping the property clean and the lawn mowed.
7. Discrimination in Housing
Federal, state and local laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on race, religion, color, national origin, sex, mental or physical handicap, marital status, and against families with children. Baltimore City includes protection against sexual orientation discrimination. Call BNI for information or help.
8. Security Deposit
Maryland has strong security deposit laws. The security deposit is usually equal to one month’s rent, but can’t be more than two months’ rent. For deposits greater than $50, interest is to be paid at the end of the tenancy, at the rate of two percent for every six-month period that the landlord has had the deposit. The landlord can charge the security deposit for lost rent, physical damage to the property beyond ordinary wear and tear, etc. A security deposit is money given to the landlord by the tenant to protect the landlord against unpaid rent or damages to the leased premises. Vacating the premises before the end of the lease, and damages to the property above and beyond normal wear are common reasons that a security deposit will be withheld. As a tenant, you have a legal right to receive a receipt for the security deposit. The receipt, however, could be a written clause in the lease, as well as a separate document. A receipt should mention the right of a tenant to request a written list of damages. You have this right only if a written request is made to the landlord within 15 days of occupancy. All tenants should take advantage of this important right. If the landlord fails to provide a receipt, then he or she is liable to pay the tenant $25. For more information, contact: The Maryland Peoples Law Library.
9. Renter's Insurance
Most people do not realize their need for renter’s insurance until it is too late. Many situations can arise that will result in damaged property. For example, if the person in an apartment above you left his or her water running, causing an overflow, this could flood your apartment. Your furniture and appliances may be ruined. A fire in your apartment or in a neighbor’s apartment could destroy all of your belongings. Tenants must realize that they are not covered under their landlord’s insurance policy. These policies only cover structural damage to the property, not the belongings of the tenants. Therefore, to protect your possessions, you may want to take out a renter’s insurance policy. These policies are inexpensive and will protect your furniture and personal belongings against fire, water, vandalism, theft, etc.
Most insurance policies run from $100 to $200 per year. Once you have an insurance policy, you should carefully list and describe all personal property and the cost of those items. Receipts should be kept as proof of those costs. Keep in mind that photographs and videotapes may be priceless and will not be able to be replaced if they are damaged. Renter’s insurance can be purchased through major commercial insurance companies. Research your insurance options online using your favorite search engine to find more agencies that offer this type of insurance and shop for the best price. Also, check with you parents and see if their policy will cover your apartment. Many insurance policies will cover your apartment.
There may be times when a tenant does not have the income required to rent an apartment. (The total yearly rent for an apartment should not exceed more than 30 percent of an individual’s income.) Therefore, some landlords will require a cosigner. A cosigner, to be acceptable, usually needs to meet all of the qualifications that a tenant needs to meet: good credit, employment record and sufficient income. Cosigning a lease is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly. If a tenant cannot afford the apartment or cannot budget his/her money properly and defaults on the lease, the landlord can seek payment from the cosigner, even if the landlord must take the cosigner to court. A cosigner is responsible for the first full year of the lease and for any renewals thereafter.
1. Is the lease short or long-term?
2. Do you pro-rate rent?
3. Where and how is rent paid each month?
4. When are payments considered late?
5. Are utilities included?
6. Are there additional fees on top of the rent?
7. Is there a property management on site?
8. Are there regular inspections?
9. Are there rules against personalizing your apartment?
10. Are there quiet hours in place?
11. Are pets allowed?
12. Is the deposit refundable?
13. Is there any maintenance work the resident is responsible for?
14. How often are the locks changed?
15. Who is in charge of pest control?