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Top things to avoid before signing lease

Q: I am considering moving to an apartment building and I’ve been thinking of choosing one of the new luxury buildings going up everywhere. I haven’t rented for decades, and I’m wondering what I should be examining in the lease agreement in order to protect myself. Are there particular issues I should be aware of or agreements I should avoid? Any guidance you can provide would be appreciated.

A: There are several issues to consider when you are thinking of renting an apartment.

The first issue is to do some research on your landlord by running a background check doing a simple internet search of looking up the building name, landlord name, management company or address of the building. The owner could be an individual, corporation or several investors, and they may have an individual manager or leasing agent who deals with tenants in the rental building.

Many landlords hire a rental company to handle everything from leasing to maintenance in their building. There may be an individual or business identified to whom rent is paid, and there may also be an agent for service of process that is listed so you can do an internet search of that person or business.

The second issue is to go to the apartment you will be renting and view it a couple of times before you commit. The apartment complex might not be that busy during the daytime hours with tenants being at work, but could be very busy in the evening. By viewing the place during the day and then again in the evening, you will get a better idea for how busy the place is and also whether there is enough off-street parking for you or your visitors.

You should talk to the tenants already living in the building and preferably someone living close to the unit you are going to rent. Some good information you could learn from your prospective neighbors would be the noise level in the building, if there are problem neighbors or management concerns, how fast the landlord makes repairs and whether or not it’s a good place to live.

A third issue is to thoroughly review your lease before you sign it. If you don’t understand certain clauses or terms, feel free to contact me or another attorney for an explanation. If your landlord doesn’t provide you with a lease or makes excuses about giving you a copy of the lease, then it’s a warning sign for you to reconsider renting an apartment there.

Many leases are one year in length, which means your rent cannot be raised during that year before your lease term ends. Before signing your lease, find out what amenities are included in your rent and which ones come with an extra charge such as an indoor garage space, swimming pool, exercise room, playground area for children, barbecue area, guest parking, bike storage, laundry facilities, media room, community garden, dog park and any other services.

Typically, you will pay a security deposit and first month’s rent when you sign the lease, so it’s important to make sure you have the financial resources to do so. Also, it’s important to find out what utilities or other expenses are included in your rent payment and which are not. These utilities or expenses could include water, heat, electricity, garbage, cable and internet.

If you have a pet, you need to make sure they are allowed in your rental unit and around the property, and also find out what the pet rent and pet deposit is before signing the lease. You should ask if management is offering a discount or incentives for signing a one-year lease such as $100 off rent for the first six months or one month of free rent if you sign a one-year lease.

Another tip to keep in mind when you review the lease is whether or not there is a buy-out clause. If you need to move before your one-year lease ends and there is a buy-out clause in your lease, it will allow you to pay a couple of months of rent to end your lease early.

Lastly, make sure the rental apartment is in a neighborhood you like and feel safe in, the size of the apartment is adequate and the place is reasonably priced with the amenities you desire.

Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to [email protected]. Information provided by readers is not confidential.