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Questions to ask before you sign a lease

Signing a lease always makes me nervous. Anyone else? What if it turns out to be a bad fit? What if I neglected to ask about something really important? It’s hard not to feel anxious about making an expensive and semi-permanent mistake, so if you feel the same way, below are some questions to ask that will help you make a more informed decision before you sign your name on the dotted line:

Is parking included?

It’s a given in most suburban and rural communities that parking will be included, but that’s not always the case in an urban setting. In many city apartment buildings, it’s common for only one parking spot to be included in the price of the lease. An additional parking spot can often run upwards of $150 per month, if it’s even an option, so be sure to ask about the parking situation. If you’re renting a townhouse or row home in a city, you may not have any designated parking spots and you’ll unfortunately be at the mercy of first-come, first-served street parking.

What utilities are included?

Be sure to ask what utilities are required (I was once surprised by a hot water heater that required a gas line), and read the lease carefully to find out what is covered and what is not. I’ve lived in many apartments where water and sewer were included in the price, but that isn’t always the case. Included utilities can vary wildly, so if you must stay below a certain budget make sure you know all of the added utility costs before signing the lease.

Can I paint the walls or hang pictures?

Some communities or landlords are real sticklers when it comes to painting or hanging things on the wall, but occasionally a property management company will paint one accent wall for you as part of your leasing agreement. Every leasing situation is different, so make sure you know the facts first.

What amenities are included?

Perks such as gym rooms and swimming pools are always nice amenities to have, and sometimes you’ll even be surprised by a game room or a community room. Many developments don’t allow grills, so if you enjoy an occasional barbecue, check to see if community grills are available and easily accessible.

What is your rule on pets?

Pets are part of the family, so make sure you know what is and is not allowed prior to signing. Many developments have weight limits for dogs, species restrictions, or a limit on the number of animals you can own. 

Are there any community rules?

Many places are lax when it comes to what you can keep on your balcony or in your yard, but certain neighborhoods can be extremely strict. I currently live in a neighborhood that doesn’t allow you to park a stroller or keep toys outside … rules that were very difficult to adjust to with a toddler and a baby at home!

If you’re in the military be sure to ask about the military clause

The military clause in a lease allows you to break the lease should you receive military orders before your lease agreement has expired. It’s absolutely essential for you to have this in the lease if you’re in the military because you never know when you could be deployed or reassigned to a different station.

Signing a lease is a big decision and you’ll want to ensure that you have all of the pertinent information prior to committing. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for clarification or for more information if you have any concerns—it’s always better to be safe than sorry before signing any contract!