by John Adams
Every state has slightly different laws and customs regarding leases, so it’s important to know how these laws affect you. The best way to do just that is to read your lease carefully.
Your lease isn’t just a piece of paper – it’s a legally binding contract. That’s why the right time to get essential information from your landlord and negotiate details isn’t while the ink is drying – it’s before you sign your name on the dotted line.
1. How long is the lease & what happens at the end?
A lease is most often for one year, sometimes 6 months. It’s important to know the length of your term because you’re locked into that time frame once you sign a lease.
You should also find out what the penalties are for breaking your lease in an emergency situation. For example, if you get married or you’re transferred, can you get out of the lease? Unless you get the landlord to include an early termination clause, you could end up losing your security deposit and still be on the hook for the rest of the rent.
2. What about utilities – are they included?
The types of utilities paid by landlords vary considerably, so it’s best to know about them ahead of time. That means finding out what you’re responsible for and what your landlord covers, like water and sewer, electricity, gas, internet, cable, trash pickup, and so on.
Many landlords are now including a “water & sanitation” surcharge to help cover increasing costs. These types of additional fees can add up, but if they are not mentioned in the lease, you don’t have to pay them.
3. Can I have a dog or cat?
If you have a pet (or plan to get one), ask your landlord about their pet policy now.
Landlords are appropriately worried about anything that could damage a unit, so some owners prohibit all pets. Other landlords may allow all pets, but ask for a separate pet deposit or “pet rent” (a monthly fee for having a pet), or accept pets up to a certain weight (or other stipulations).
4. When is rent due and how do i pay it?
In Georgia, there is no legal “grace period” for rent unless it is written in the lease.
This is in contrast to most mortgages, which include a 15 day grace period. In addition, rent is payable in advance, whereas interest is paid in arrears.
Whether your landlord lives next door or you mail a check to a property manager, it’s important to find out when and how your rent payment should be sent every month.
And even if you don’t think you’ll be late with rent, it’s smart to ask your landlord when a payment is considered late, and if there are any charges.
5. Exactly what must I do to get a full refund of my security deposit?
By law, all security deposits are refundable in theory. Your landlord can withhold part of your deposit for damages you caused beyond normal wear and tear or if you break the lease. Deductions can also be made against your deposit for unpaid rent or fees.
Georgia has very specific laws on security deposits, so make sure you understand this issue.
6. What is the procedure for maintenance & repairs?
The heart of Georgia Landlord-Tenant law is this:
“The tenant’s duty is to pay rent, and the landlord’s duty is to repair.”
That means your landlord must make reasonable attempts to make repairs in a timely manner. But what is “reasonable and timely” to one person may be stupid and slow to another.
For that reason, it is imperative that you know how to report issues and how soon to expect a response. Open communication here is critical.
Depending on your rental situation, your building might have on-site property management. But it is rare to find around the clock repairs. In any case, before you sign the lease, it’s good to know the procedure.
Also ask if renter’s insurance is required. Even if it’s not, I always recommend that you be covered. It’s cheap, and covers your personal possessions in case of fire or loss.
7. What are the rules for painting or improvements?
If you want to paint your bedroom walls or install curtain rods in the living room, you should check now on what kind of changes are OK and which are forbidden. Getting it all in writing can avoid potential major expenses at the end of your lease.
In most cases, you’re expected to leave your apartment in its original state when your lease is up. If you make unapproved cosmetic changes, a portion of your security deposit could be withheld in order for your landlord to restore the house or apartment.
You lease agreement governs most of the terms between you and your landlord, so it’s a very important document. Make sure you read it before you sign it, and ask all the questions you can think of before you sign on the dotted line.