There are a few situations in adult life where you are confronted by an authority figure with a stack of legal documents in a closed-off and usually stuffy room. Most of them involve an exchange of a whole lot of cash. There's the car purchase, the home sale closing and, most pertinent to this blog, the lease signing. Regardless of what they're buying, consumers in these situations often find that they draw a blank on the questions they meant to ask before signing their lives away.
Here at RentConfident we believe that a lease signing should be a two-way conversation, and that neither you nor your landlord holds any greater or lesser authority until the papers are signed by both sides. To that end, we've got a list of questions that you can copy to your phone and bring with you. Make it a worksheet, and fill in the answers to each question in language you can understand. Do not walk out of your lease signing until you have filled in every blank.
A few notes are in order before we begin. Some of these questions might not apply to you or to the building you're moving into. Adjust the list as needed. Questions that are likely to get a bluffed or false answer from the landlord are marked with a star. This list is specific to Chicago, so it skips over common things found elsewhere such as wells, septic systems and radon abatement equipment. Mandatory disclosures that are required by law in Chicago such as lead paint, bedbug policies and security deposit procedures are not included in this list. This list is by no means exhaustive but it's a pretty good start!
- When does the lease start? Date and time.
- When does the lease end? Date and time.
- When do you have to provide notice if you are moving out?
- What day of the month is rent due?
- What day of the month is rent considered past due?
- Does this lease renew automatically or will there be a new lease when this one expires?
- Who do you contact if something breaks?
- Who do you contact if you get locked out?
- Who do you contact if you need to speak to a decision-maker?
- Is your main point of contact the owner or a manager?
- Who has authority to speak on behalf of the landlord if they are unavailable?*
- If there is a property manager: Under what circumstances is it OK to contact the landlord directly?*
- If it is a condo: Under what circumstances is it OK to contact the condo board directly?*
- What times are considered business hours?
- What issues are considered emergencies worthy of an after-hours call?
- What happens if the landlord becomes incapacitated, hospitalized or dies?
- What utility services do you have to pay for?
- Do you have to pay for utility services for anyone else, such as laundry or common areas?
- Does the landlord require you to keep renters insurance? If so, how much coverage is needed?
- Does the landlord require you to keep any other insurance policies?
- Who provides trash pickup?
- When is trash day?
- Who do you contact if you have large items for the trash?
- Do you need to put the trash containers at curbside for pickup?
- Does the building have recycling? What materials can be recycled?*
- Who provides towing for any parking lots?
- Who provides landscaping and grounds service?
- Who provides pest control services?
- If you have pets: Does this building use pet-safe pesticides? How about pet-safe de-icing in the winter?
- If these features are available: What are the rules and hours for the pool? The gym? The roof deck? The laundry room? The business center? The party room?
- Is there anyone you must notify if you are expecting company? How about packages?
- Who should you contact if common area fire alarms or extinguishers need service?
- Do you permit tenants to install door decorations such as Christmas Wreaths or mezuzahs?
- Do you permit tenants to display political signs or sports team fan decorations?*
- If you were to have a yard sale what sort of arrangements would be needed?*
Moving In & Out
- How far in advance does the landlord need to know your moving plans?
- Is it possible to move in a day early if you must be out of your current apartment before your lease begins?
- What route must you take to bring in your furniture?
- Where should moving trucks park on moving day?
- Are there any precautions such as padding or carpet covers that you are required to use?
Maintenance & Consumable Items
- Does the property have any appliances that need service regularly? If so, who coordinates the service calls?
- What consumables need to be changed, and who pays for them? (Possible options include furnace filters, water softeners, fire extinguishers, light bulbs and smoke detector batteries.)
- Under what circumstances would you, the tenant, be responsible for repair costs?*
People & Pets
- What is the procedure for adding people to the lease?
- What is the procedure for removing people from the lease?
- If you have teenaged children: Do you need to add the child to the lease when they turn 18?
- If you have a cosigner: Under what circumstances would the landlord contact the cosigner?*
- Under what circumstances would the landlord use your emergency contact numbers?*
- Does the building have "quiet hours"? If so, what times?
- What are building policies for parties and large gatherings? Indoors? Outdoors? How about grilling?
- What pets are permitted?
- What pets are specifically banned?
- Do you need to notify anyone if you get a pet?
- Who should a shelter call to verify pet policy if you want to adopt a pet?
Fees & Fines
- What is the late rent fee?
- If the landlord provides lockout service, how much does it cost?
- If you have a security deposit: What is the interest rate on your deposit?
- What utilities does the landlord bill you for in addition to the rent?
- Is there a cost to add roommates?
- What does it cost to break the lease?*
- What payment methods can be used to pay rent?
- How is rent collection handled? Can you mail in a check? Drop it off? Pay online? Drop it in a bank depository?
- Do you offer any incentives for early rent payment?*
- Do you report all rent payments, late rent payments or any payment information to credit bureaus?*
- How do you handle security deposit deductions for damages? How about for cleaning?
- Can the plumbing handle sanitary products?
- Has the water been tested for lead levels?*
- If you control the heat: is there a recommended temperature range for this apartment?
- If you are in a high rise: How long does it take this building to convert from heat to AC?*
- What are your policies for installing window-mounted air conditioners?
- Does the landlord or manager inspect the property regularly? For damage? For cleanliness?*
- Does the landlord provide regular pest control visits, and if so, when are they?*
- Does the building use bedbug-sniffing dogs as part of their pest control regimen?
Are there any questions we missed that you always ask of your new landlords? Are there questions that you wish you'd know the answer to before moving in? Let us know in the comments!
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