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What to Know Before Signing a Lease

Trying to find a place to live is difficult enough. There are locations, finances, and moving arrangements to worry about. Make the transition in to your new place a little smoother by keeping these tips in mind before signing a contract.

Calculate the anticipated costs of utilities (i.e., heat, electricity) when determining which apartments you can afford. Take a careful walk through inspection of the apartment to ensure it's in acceptable, move-in condition. Put all agreements for repairs in writing. Evaluate the tenancy agreement and, if feasible, have a more experienced pair of eyes review it, such as a tenant lawyer. Never put money down until you're certain you've found the right apartment. Although you might be legally entitled to a refund up until the landlord officially accepts you as a tenant, that money may be difficult to recover. Make sure you have written statements documenting what is expected of you in terms of pre-payments or a finder's fee.

It's against the law for a landlord to rent out an illegal, unpermitted dwelling, including an illegally converted garage, guesthouse, added room, or additional unit built without permits. No matter how cheap the rent is ? or how desperate you may be to find a place ? you should never occupy an illegal dwelling, as the lack of safety standards make it dangerous in the event of a fire or flood. You should also avoid owner occupied homes with excessive boarders.

Try to speak with current residents about the competency and reputation of the landlord and/or management company. Does the landlord or management company respond well to "after hours" emergencies? Are repair requests addressed in a timely manner? Even the most professional landlord may not be well liked on a personal level by every tenant, but you just want to gather a general feel for how they do business and interact with people.

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