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Red flags to look for on your lease

It may seem daunting to read through a lease; however, be sure to take the time to understand what you are getting yourself into. The piece of paper you sign is a legal document, and therefore a court can hold you to every clause. From monthly, on-time payments to the security deposit, it is up to the renter to know his or her options when dealing with a landlord or management company. Also, keep in mind that rental lease laws vary between communities, so check with your local government to see which laws are in place in your area.

As is: If the lease states that the tenant "agrees to take the unit as is,"  you should speak to your landlord. If he or she is not willing to fix broken floorboards or deal with mold, the apartment may not be fit for living.

Landlord access: By law, your landlord does not have complete access to your apartment. Unless for security purposes, he or she must give notice for entering your apartment for any reason. He or she has the right to show your apartment to another renter, but you should get prior notice. The only time a landlord can enter an apartment without warning is if there is a flood or fire. Beware of any clauses that give landlords freedom to enter your apartment.

Repairs: A lease should never read "tenant is responsible for repairs," for appliances that break or windows that do not close. Broken dishwashers, plumbing issues or leaky faucets are the responsibility of the landlord.

Duration: Most rental leases last for 12 months. Be cautious of leases where you are asked to sign for longer as it will not offer you flexibility to get out of the lease.

Security deposit: If your lease does not have concrete reasons for the purpose of your security deposit, you may not get it back. For example, a lease should state how much it would cost to replace a door, blinds or the carpet. At the end of your lease, if you have damaged any of these items, it will come out of your deposit. If the terms for the security deposit are vague, chances are you will not see it when your lease is up.

You should discuss the process for repairs prior to signing a lease, and take photos of the condition of the apartment on the move-in date. Will the landlord allow you to repaint so you are not charged for the service?

Late fees: Most landlords will charge a fee for paying rent late; however, if the fee is more than 3 to 5 percent of the rent after the initial grace period, it is too high.

Mandatory insurance: Renter's insurance is not generally discussed in a lease as it is up to the renter to safeguard his or her home. Make sure your lease does not include paying for the landlord's insurance.

Rules: After the lease has been signed by both parties, the landlord does not have the right to change any terms. You are agreeing to pay rent for a set amount of time and the landlord must adhere to the agreed upon set rules.

Do your research before signing a lease on your first apartment.

If you're about to leave home and lease your first apartment, you should be doing a lot of research before diving into a new living situation. It's important to ask the tough questions so you can find the apartment that fits your needs, budget and lifestyle. Remember that once you've signed a lease, you're pretty much stuck with it, so take your time and give yourself options. Here are three tips for helping you find the right first apartment:

1. Pay attention to the details 
When you view a nice living space, it's easy to fall in love at first sight. However, an apartment may not actually be as great as it seems upon first glance. If possible, check the light fixtures and water pressure to ensure that everything is in working order. Ask questions about the appliances such as dishwashers, refrigerators and washing machines. Make a quick phone call or send a text to make sure you have adequate cellphone service. It's also a good idea to check that the windows open and close properly, especially if you live in seasonal climate. Take note of the building facilities as well. 

2. Take pictures before moving in 
It's best practice to take pictures of every inch of your apartment before moving in, plain and simple. Make sure to get detailed images of any issues that is already present when you move in. Otherwise, some landlords may try to charge you for the damage when you move out. These pictures will also give you a point of reference for when you are moving out so that you can leave the apartment in the condition it was rented to you. In case of a dispute, you'll have picture evidence to back up your claims. 

3. Budget for extras 
Don't throw the entirety of your budget into rent. When viewing an apartment, make sure to take note of what utilities are included. If you live in a cold basement apartment and have a heating bill, those chilly winter months could prove rather costly. Some apartment complexes include utilities in the rent payment, which often drives up the price overall. However, create a budget to compare the two systems and you may find that you are actually saving money if you don't have to pay monthly utilities. Consider other costs such as parking spaces, pet fees and laundry as well.