Understanding Common Terms in Standard Lease Agreements: From Security Deposits to Subletting

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So, you’re diving into the world of renting for the first-time. This is a big step and it’s best to come prepared. In addition to packing your bags and telling all your friends, some basic research on contracts and terms is essential. To give you a helping hand, we came up with a quick guide on common terms in a standard lease agreement, the document you’ll need to sign before you move in.

This is one of the most important steps regarding renting paperwork. Consider it a rulebook for your new renter life. This legal contract outlines the terms and conditions of your tenancy, dictating everything from when and how you pay rent to other responsibilities and rights. Understanding all that a standard lease agreement implies is crucial for a smooth renting experience.

Let’s break down some common lease terms that every first-time renter should know. But first, we’ll tackle one of the most common questions among first-time renters.

What is a standard lease agreement?

A standard lease agreement, also known as a rental agreement or lease contract, is a legally binding document that establishes the terms and conditions of renting an apartment that both the landlord and renter need to commit to. It typically includes details such as the duration of the lease, rent amount, security deposit, rules regarding pets and guests, maintenance responsibilities, and procedures for lease termination.

close-up of a standard lease agreement, a pen and keys to an apartment

Security deposit

One of the most common terms in a standard lease agreement is the security deposit. This is money you pay upfront, usually equal to one or two months’ rent, which protects the landlord if there’s damages or unpaid rent. It’s important to understand how and when you can get this deposit back. For example, before returning the money, landlords can make a walkthrough inspection when you move out. They will be checking to make sure there are no issues before returning the money.

Rent payment

The lease agreement specifies the amount of money you have to pay in exchange for living in the rental apartment, the due date, and how you can pay (the accepted payment methods). Clarifying these details is an important step in your first-time renter journey to avoid late fees or other penalties. Another thing to keep in mind here is that some standard lease agreements may also refer to how and when your landlord can increase your rent. Make sure to discuss these points before you sign the lease so that you’ll be prepared for any adjustments.

Maintenance responsibilities

This is just a more formal way of saying who fixes what. Standard lease agreements typically outline the maintenance responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. While landlords are generally responsible for major repairs and structural issues, renters are often expected to maintain the cleanliness and proper upkeep of the rental unit. It’s not uncommon for first-time renters to think that the landlord needs to take care of all fixing duties, so it’s best to have a conversation and agree on what’s laid out in the contract.

a plumber in a bathroom with many parts and tools around him

Late fees

Speaking of money, a standard lease agreement will often include details about late fees for overdue rent payments. What are late fees? Late fees are amounts of money you are charged to compensate landlords when you pay your rent past its due date. Details like the amount of the late fee, the grace period (if any), or any additional penalties if delayed payments happen again should all be in your contract. Being proactive in talking to your landlord about any potential difficulties in meeting rent deadlines can help avoid unnecessary fees and strain on the tenant-landlord relationship.

Subletting

The subletting clause in a standard lease agreement refers to whether you can rent out your apartment to someone else for a short period of time. This can be a great perk if you plan to temporarily relocate or if you’d like to share your apartment with a roommate to offset costs. However, you need to be careful because not going through all the steps required for subletting can also be a deal breaker and lead to eviction. So, you will need to obtain written consent from your landlord before having someone else live with you. If you want to know more about what you need to do when officially inviting a roommate in, you can brose our guide.

Pets policy

Many lease agreements address whether pets are allowed on the rental property and under what conditions. Some landlords may prohibit renting with pets altogether, while others may impose restrictions on the type, size, or number of pets allowed. If you have a furry friend, it’s important to review the pet policy carefully and get written permission from the landlord if needed. Not complying to the rules regarding pets can result in eviction or additional fees. Other terms to look for in your standard lease agreement are pet deposits or additional rent for pets. It’s important to clarify these expectations upfront to avoid misunderstandings later on.

adorable Samoyed dog in a living rooms, sitting on a white carpet

Utilities

In some cases, a standard lease agreement may clarify which apartment utilities are included in the rent and which ones are paid for separately by renters. Common utilities covered by landlords may include water, sewage, and trash removal, while renters typically bear the costs of electricity, gas, internet, and cable services. Understanding these arrangements will help you budget effectively and avoid surprises when utility bills arrive. Additionally, the lease may outline the steps for transferring utility accounts you’re your name and any penalties for failure to pay utility bills promptly.

Overall, familiarizing yourself with the common lease terms found in a standard lease agreement is essential, especially if you’re a first-time renter. From understanding the purpose of a security deposit to knowing your rights regarding subletting, clarity on these terms will empower you to navigate your rental experience with confidence. By reading and going through your lease agreement thoroughly, you can avoid misunderstandings, protect your rights, and create a great relationship with your landlord.

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Alexandra Both is a senior creative writer with RentCafe. She has more than six years of real estate writing experience as a senior editor with Commercial Property Executive and Multi-Housing News. She is a seasoned journalist, who has previously worked in print, online and broadcast media. Alexandra has a B.A. in Journalism and an M.A. in Community Development.

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