Paycheck Chronicles

Ten Questions To Ask Before You Sign A Lease

As many of us pack up and move around, there are many military families leasing new homes.  It can be exciting and stressful and crazy.  It is important to remain thoughtful and ask important questions before you sign the lease on a new apartment or house.  There are hundreds of things to ask (yourself or the landlord), but I'm just going to focus on the money side of things. My top 10 most important financial questions are:

  1. Does the lease have a military clause?  How is it worded?  Even without a military clause, service members are automatically covered under the provisions of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.  However, it has only the minimum protections.  It is usually relatively easy to put a more favorable military clause in the lease.
  2. What is the total amount of money needed to move in?  Does it need to be paid in advance?  How much is the security deposit, and is it refundable?  What other types of deposits are there?  What forms of payment are needed?
  3. When are the rental payments due?  Is there a grace period?  What are the late fees?  If you foresee a problem based upon your pay schedule, ask if the due date can be changed before the lease is signed.
  4. What things will occur if you do not pay your rent in a timely manner, or if your payment is returned?  Will future payments need to be in a certain form, like a cashier's check?
  5. What utilities are included?  How much are average utility bills?  If you are lucky, you can ask the current tenants or a nearby neighbor if the units are similar.   You might even be able to get a statement from the local utility company.
  6. How long is the lease, and what happens when it expires?  Frequently, current tenants will be permitted to roll over to a month-to-month lease, but some landlords prefer to only renew for another set term.
  7. What amenities require extra fees?  Do you pay to use laundry machines?  A pool?  A parking spot?
  8. What appliances/fixtures/equipment will you need to provide?  This includes things big like a washer and dryer, a refrigerator, curtains or blinds, rugs, and even smaller items like somewhere to store your bathroom items if there are no cupboards or shelves available.  Be sure to consider all the extras - they can really add up!
  9. What are the penalties for breaking the lease (not under the military clause)?  Can you get a roommate without permission?  Can you sublet the dwelling?
  10. What changes can you make?  What changes can you NOT make?  What are the rules for  nails (for pictures)?  Painting?  Hanging curtain rods?
Obviously, this list could go on for a long time.  The most important things it to READ THE ENTIRE LEASE before you sign it.  Don't be pressured because it is long and the rest of the people are waiting.  If you have any questions, don't sign. The JAG or legal services office on your base will be glad to help you sort out the details.  That's their job, and they are good at it.

Happy house hunting!

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