Navigating landlord-tenant agreements
Information to help in the quest for finding a home to rent, including phrases to watch for.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – Moving can often be a tedious, stressful event. The decisions made along the way will affect your next year – maybe longer, so it’s important to be well informed at every step in the process, said Elizabeth Kiss, K-State Research and Extension family resource management specialist. She shared tips to aid the hunt for your next rental home.
“A good rule for a tenant or a potential tenant is that if someone is renting, he or she will want to have whatever the agreement is in writing and review the document before signing,” Kiss said.
Kiss suggests that prospective renters consider how many people will live there (which determines the size of the place to look for), a property’s age, location, parking arrangement, and pet and smoking policies.
“After asking themselves about their preferred living situation in terms of the physical dwelling, a potential tenant needs to know what the rent will be, how much rent he or she can afford, and what other things might be included in the lease,” Kiss said.
“Perhaps some of the utilities are included or maybe the tenants have to pay for everything (separately),” she said. “Perhaps the property has free parking or a tenant must pay to park. There may be a pool and a fitness center at some properties. So, a potential tenant must think about what is included on the property and what is in the lease.”
There are many approaches to searching for a rental property, she said, noting that if a tenant is already living in the area where they are looking they should talk to coworkers, friends, or if a student, check with fellow students. He or she can ask what experiences they have had with landlords or what they would recommend.
“If the tenant is moving to a new community, it is of course going to be a little harder,” Kiss warned. “That is where the Internet can be your best friend. There are websites that do it all for you, or you can search for yourself. For instance, someone can get online and search ‘apartments for rent in Manhattan, Kansas.’ There are also individual landlords’ websites, places such as craigslist, and other similar websites.”
A challenge in searching online is that sometimes you can only connect with landlords that have a substantial online presence. This may cause a potential tenant to miss a good property simply because they are more difficult to find online.
For college students, Kiss said, some universities have a bulletin board of properties. Check with your specific school.
According to Kiss, all things rent related should be written into the lease, including the amount of the security deposit and due date, monthly rent amount and due date, when is it considered late and what any late fees would be. Other things to be specified include where a tenant pays the rent and if and to whom the tenant pays utilities.
“The start and end dates of the lease should also be included,” Kiss said. “Many landlords use kind of a boilerplate lease that does not change from tenant to tenant, but you want to be careful and read what happens if you need to terminate the lease early and what your options are to do so. Some companies tell their employees not to sign a lease unless it has a transfer clause, meaning that if they were to be transferred (for their job) the employee could give 30 or 60 days’ notice.”
In college towns, she said, leases often run from Aug.1 to July 31.
“It is important to remember all landlords have the right to enter the property as it is their property,” Kiss said. “However, I personally would feel uncomfortable if there wasn’t something in the lease specifying a need for a set amount of advance notice except in an emergency, or whatever the terms of the notice are so that it is written that the landlord will give you notice before entering the residence before most things unless it is an emergency. It is highly important for your personal safety, too.”
Familiarize yourself with the move-out procedure. Sometimes these are not specifically listed in the lease and there may be a separate set of instructions, Kiss said, adding that the day you move in is the day you should start working towards getting your full deposit back.
When it comes to roommates there are several things to remember. Kiss recommends that all roommates’ names be on the lease, rather than just one person. This aids in keeping all parties financially invested. Most landlords want everyone on the lease. That way, if someone defaults there are others who they can collect money from.
A potential tenant should talk to their possible roommates about rent, how the rent will be paid, and develop a plan. This can include issues such as how everyone will pay the rent, how utilities will be addressed, and how food will be handled.
“I think the biggest thing is communication among the roommates and to be as transparent as possible,” Kiss said. Everyone approaches money in a different way. Some of these conversations can be uncomfortable or difficult as everyone brings his or her past family experience with them when discussing money.
Some landlords perform a credit check on a potential tenant, which can affect the chances of getting a lease. Kiss advises individuals who are aware of possible credit problems in their past to be proactive and honest. Providing references to attest to positive change may help.
While the required security deposit varies by landlord and geographical location, it is typically equal to one month’s rent. There may also be application fees. Sometimes a tenant must pay two month’s rent quickly - one for the deposit and the other for the first month of occupancy.
Legal services are often available if needed, Kiss said. College students may have resources through a university’s Dean of Students office. Occasionally the city will have resources if a landlord-tenant dispute occurs. Universities that have law schools often offer services to students and the community in general.
Kiss encourages tenants living in an apartment complex to be respectful of those around them. “Noise is a leading cause of irritation between tenants. Other irritants can include parking and smoking if it is allowed. Some places have quiet hours which may include time restraints on when things such as laundry may be done.”
K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.
K-State Research and Extension
For more information:
Elizabeth Kiss, firstname.lastname@example.org or 785-532-1946