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Important Questions To Ask Before Signing A Lease

Looking for an apartment or rental home? Whether the apartment will be your first place or you've rented before, you will want to ask some questions before signing a lease and definitely before you move into your new place.

Zvi Rudawsky, principal of Boutique Apartments in Denver, Colorado, says to be informed of what is expected of you as a tenant. "Don't even think about signing a lease until you are sure you understand it. You don't want to read the lease for the first time as you're loading up the moving van," he explains.

What should a prospective tenant ask? The following questions will help you out.

1. What's required before moving in? "A prospective tenant will have to go through a criminal background check and a credit check before signing a lease," says Jennie Spallone, a realtor with Coldwell Banker in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. Another requirement includes paying a security deposit.

2. Are pets allowed? For people with pets, renting an apartment or home that will accommodate Fido or Fluffy is imperative. "You need to ask if you can even bring your dog or cat with you," Spallone explains, noting that apartments that do allow animals may have limits on how big an animal can be and how many are allowed. An additional fee will likely apply to pet owners.

3. Who pays for utilities? Water, gas, electricity, cable, internet and garbage may or may not be included in your monthly rent. Ask what is covered and which utilities you will have to pay.

4. What do you do about annoying neighbors? Face it, neighbors are a fact of life. But before you sign the lease, ask what can be done about an annoying neighbor. If you don't feel comfortable approaching a neighbor who plays loud music at all hours, speak with your landlord.

5. What happens if you're late with rent? Before signing a lease, find out what the landlord considers a late payment and if there are any fees associated with paying rent after it's due. "Some landlords allow a grace period of a few days before they consider rent payment late. After that, they may add fees that increase for every day that you're late," Rudawsky says.

6. Who pays for something that breaks? Whether it's a broken window or a leaky toilet, the issue of who pays for the repair can be a sticky one. "If something breaks because of the tenant's fault, then the tenant will have to pay for repairs," Rudawsky says. But if something breaks due to normal wear-and-tear, then the landlord will need to pay. Spallone agrees, noting, "If anything happens to the property, the tenant should not be scared to contact the landlord."

7. Who should be contacted for repairs? Get the name and number of the landlord's contact person to deal with repairs or concerns. Don't forget about an after-hours contact number as well.

8. Are small repairs covered by the landlord? "Small things like light bulbs and hinges can be replaced by the tenant easily and fairly inexpensively. You don't want to bother your landlord for something like that," Spallone says, but adds that who is responsible for paying for small repairs should be included in the lease.

9. What's the parking situation? Ask if a specific parking spot is reserved for you in a lot, or if you can park on the street overnight. You will also need to know who to contact if someone mistakenly parks in your spot.

10. Is smoking permitted? If you smoke, you will want to know if smoking is permitted in the rental unit. If it's not, you should see if smoking is allowed anywhere else on site. If smoking is permitted in the rental unit, an additional fee may apply.

11. What amenities are included in rent? "Some apartments might include amenities like a pool, workout room or a large common room. Check and see what's available," Rudawksy advises. After all, you're already paying for these perks.

12. Is redecorating allowed? Before you pick out the perfect shade to paint your walls, ask if painting and hanging pictures is allowed. "You might be allowed to paint, but you may have to pay a fee when your lease is up and you're ready to leave," Spallone says.

13. Who shovels snow or mows the grass on the property? For a large apartment complex, tenants will likely not need to worry about landscaping concerns. But if you're renting a home, the lease should state who is responsible. According to Spallone, it's usually the tenant.

14. What are the penalties for breaking the lease? If you get an unexpected job transfer to the other side of the country six months into your 12-month lease, you'll need to break your lease. Find out if there are any fees that apply if you need to do this.

Megan Horst-Hatch is a mother, runner, baker, gardener, knitter, and other words that end in "-er." She loves nothing more than a great cupcake, and writes at I'm a Trader Joe's Fan. Her work can be found at

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