Editor’s Note: This biweekly sponsored column is written by Rick Gersten, founder and CEO of Urban Igloo, a rental real estate firm that matches up renters with their ideal apartments, condos or houses. Please submit any questions in the comments section or via email.
You’ve found a great place, your application is accepted and now it is time to sign the lease. When the landlord sends it to you, you don’t know the difference between the hereins and the forthwiths. But when signing a lease it is important to read the fine print. And you should be especially leery of any leases that are not clear and relatively straightforward.
Lease Basics — these items should be in every lease:
- Tenant(s) name(s), landlord(s) name(s), landlord contact information, and property management information, if any.
- Details on how, where and when to send rent. Also included here is information on late charges and returned check fees.
- Lease term, rent amount, security deposit amount, and any other fees such as pet fees, parking fees, move-in fees, etc. In Maryland, a security deposit can be no more than two months of rent.
- Emergency contact information – who to contact if there is an emergency situation with the property, and what, if any, remedies the tenants have should they not be able to contact the landlord.
- Maintenance responsibilities — What are the tenants obligated to maintain, and what must the landlord maintain? Generally, tenants are responsible to keep the property clean and free of debris, pests and mold. If there is outdoor space, tenants are likely responsible for trimming trees, shrubs, and lawns as well as removing snow and ice, unless otherwise specified. Tenants are also responsible for light bulbs and air filters. Landlords are responsible for keeping all items on the property in working condition, unless specified as “as-is.” And landlords must repair or replace anything that is not specified so long as the damage is not incurred due to tenant negligence.
- Insurance – Montgomery County leaves the renter’s insurance requirement to the discretion of the landlord. Even if your landlord does not require it, it is strongly encouraged. Your lease should state whether or not it is required.
- Landlord Access – The lease should specify under what circumstances the landlord can enter the property with and without notice.
- Lead paint disclosure – If the property was built before 1978, the landlord must provide a Lead Paint disclosure. Landlords are required to provide any reports or paperwork they have on Lead Paint hazards, and/or disclosure if they have no information.
- Pets – If the landlord allows pets, be sure it is specified in the lease. The pet addendum or clause should include the type of pet allowed, number of pets and any fees or pet rent required. If the tenant does not have a pet upon move-in but later adds a pet to the household, be sure to have a document prepared with the above specifications so there is no confusion later.
- Occupants — The number of allowed occupants should also be listed on the lease. Any occupant over the age of 18 should be listed as a responsible tenant.
- Two-Year Lease Offer — Montgomery County requires landlords to offer an initial lease term of two years. If the landlord is unable to do so, they must provide a reasonable explanation as to why the two-year term was not offered. Accepting this offer is at the discretion of the tenant.
Other Common Lease Items:
- Maintenance requests prior to move-in – If the landlord and tenant agreed to some maintenance items during the application and offer process, it is important to add those items to the lease if they are not complete by lease signing.
- Painting — If the landlord approves of the tenant painting the unit at the tenant’s expense, with landlord approval or otherwise, put that in the lease. Be sure to include if the landlord requires the wall color to return to its original conditional, and if there is a charge for the landlord to do so.
- Military or diplomatic clauses – With the transient nature of many of the residents in the Metro DC area, these are especially important, and are often required for tenants who are military or diplomats. Basically, these clauses allow for the tenant to break the lease should their orders change during the lease term. Maryland law specifies that if a military service member receives orders to move more than 50 miles away from the area for three months or longer, or if they are relieved from active-duty, they may terminate the lease. They must provide a 30-day notice and the tenant is responsible for rent through the following full month after notice is given. Example: Notice is given on November 15 and the tenant is still responsible for the full month of rent for December. Also, they may not terminate the lease more than 60 days before the date of departure.
If the landlord is using a real estate agent, the lease is likely to be a standard, realtor-approved form. If you don’t have an agent to help you navigate the lease, and you have any questions, it is best to hire an attorney, or you can contact the Montgomery County Office of Landlord Tenant Affairs (240-777-0311) and they may be able to answer your questions. Never sign a lease you don’t understand or don’t agree with in hopes you can work it out later. Get the answers you need before you sign on the dotted line.
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