Tenant Tips for Lease Agreements

Tenant Tips for Lease Agreements
By Mia Hartley, JD/MBA Candidate 2023
Stetson University College of Law

 

Finding a place to rent can be an overwhelming process, and in the moment it can be difficult to remember all of the questions that you would like to ask. For that reason, we have prepared a list of tips and questions that you should be sure to consider and ask the landlord about before signing on the dotted line. These tips and questions are included below.

TIP #1: If you don’t understand, don’t sign.

Read your lease!  As a tenant, you are an equal party to the landlord. This means that you never have to agree to any rental arrangement, so be sure that you understand the terms of a rental agreement before you sign. Once you sign, you are bound to what it says in the contract, so it is important to ask all of the questions before you do.

TIP #2: Write it down.

While a rental agreement (a lease) can be written or oral, written is always best, as an oral agreement can lead to misunderstandings. A written rental agreement can be a formal contract, or something as simple as a copy of a letter stating the rights and obligations of the landlord and tenant.

In Florida, it is required that notices to and from a landlord must be in writing and either hand-delivered or mailed, EVEN if the rental agreement is oral. Be sure to always keep a copy of this correspondence.

TIP #3: Keep copies of all documents for your records.

Have copies of all of the written correspondence between you and the landlord.

Questions to Ask Before Signing the Lease Agreement

Lease Basics:

What is the move in/move out process like?

Are there specific days when moving trucks are not allowed?

How long is the lease term?

Many leases are 12 months long, but it is important to ask this question upfront to be sure.

What utilities or amenities are included or not included in the rent cost?

Ask specifically what utilities you will be responsible for, and what utilities the landlord will cover. Amenities like parking, lawn care, storage, and pool access are other things to consider. Be sure to ask how you will pay for those specified utilities, and what will be covered in your monthly rent.

When is rent due and how do I pay the rent?

Every landlord-tenant relationship is different when it comes to paying rent. Be sure to ask what the process of rent payment will be like, and what the fee or penalty is if you make a late rental payment.  Many landlords use online portals for rent payment – make sure you understand the procedure.

Is Renters Insurance required?

A renters insurance policy helps to cover your belongings if they are stolen or damaged in certain instances. Be sure to ask if your landlord will require this insurance and what sort of coverage is required.

Is Subletting Allowed?

Check and see if your lease contract allows for subletting. Subletting involves renting out your space temporarily to another person, while the lease still stays in your name. This is helpful if you want to avoid breaking the lease early, or if you are not going to be in your space for extended periods of time.

What is forbidden in terms of altering the space, etc.?

Ask about whether or not you are allowed to paint or hang items on the walls, install satellite dishes or cables, or if there are noise ordinances in the area.

When is a landlord allowed to enter the rented space without an invitation?

Except when there is an emergency, a landlord must give at least 12 hours notice of their intent to enter for any of the reasons listed below. The landlord can enter sooner if the tenant gives permission, and they can only enter at reasonable hours (between 7:30am-8:00pm). The landlord can enter without an invitation:

  • In case of an emergency, like a fire or serious water leak
  • When inspections or repairs need to be made
  • When there is a court order
  • If the landlord has reasonable cause to believe the tenant abandoned the premises
  • When reasonably necessary during a tenant’s extended absence, given that the tenant did not notify the landlord of the absence, or
  • To show the property to prospective new tenants, purchasers, or contractors

Security Deposits:

How much is the security deposit? What does the security deposit cover upon move-out?

Most residential leases and rental agreements in Florida require a security deposit. A security deposit is an amount of money that is paid at the start of renting a place that is intended to cover damage to the space beyond the normal wear and tear when you (the tenant) leave. This sum of money is “held” by the landlord through the rental agreement timeframe and is oftentimes refundable, but be sure to ask about this.

In Florida, there is no statutory limit on the amount that a landlord can charge for a security deposit, but be wary if it seems like an unusually high amount. It is pretty common for the security deposit to be the same as one month’s rent.

What additional information should Florida landlords provide to tenants about security deposits?

Within 30 days of receiving a security deposit, a landlord must disclose in writing:

  • Whether the funds will be held in an interest or non-interest bearing account
  • The name of the account depository, and
  • The rate and time of interest payments

How do I protect my security deposit when I move in?

Be sure to inspect the space BEFORE you move in, or better yet, before you sign the lease. That way, you can spot any problems while the place is bare. Check for problems like damage, dirt, mildew, pests, or obvious wear and tear. Even things such as water pressure and sink drainage, appliances and the condition of the walls and floors. Write down a detailed inventory of what you find and take pictures so that you have a detailed record. It is even better to create or download a Landlord-Tenant Checklist that you and the landlord can fill out together and both sign at the beginning of the lease that notes the problems that existed in the space before you moved in.

If you take pictures, be sure to print out two sets of the pictures, a set for you and a set for your landlord. Sign and date both sets of the photos. If you use a video instead of photos, be sure to state the time and date in the video, and send it to your landlord so that they have a copy too.

What is the deadline in Florida for returning a security deposit?

Under Florida Law, a landlord must return the tenant’s security deposit within 15 to 60 days after the tenant has legally moved out (meaning, you returned the keys, have vacated the property, and abided by your lease terms). Florida landlords must also provide tenants with advance notice of any deductions from the deposit. Deductions can result from any cleaning or repairs that the landlord might need to be when you move out.

Depending on the condition of the space, your security deposit may not even be returned. Be sure to ask your landlord about this policy and their expectations of the condition of the space when you move out, so that you can work to receive your security deposit back.

Moving Out:

What happens if I want to end the lease early (is there an Early Termination Policy?)

Be sure that you know exactly how long your lease is, and what would happen if you were to break that lease early. Some lease contracts will require you to continue to pay rent every month until your lease ends, while others might give you early termination options, where you will likely pay a fee in order to break the lease before it is supposed to end.

If I want to move out, how far in advance do I need to give notice before moving out?

Most of the time, you will need to provide 30-60 days notice in advance of moving out, but it is important to ask your landlord the specific terms of your lease. If you do not give the required notice, you could lose you security deposit or your lease could automatically renew without you wanting it to.

Additional Questions to Ask:

  • Is parking included? Is there public transportation nearby?
  • Will my rent ever increase?
  • If my rent will increase, what is the typical rent increase each year?
  • Are pets allowed? Are there any nonrefundable deposits or pet rent that you can pay during the lease term?
  • What do I do if there is a maintenance request? Is emergency 24/7 maintenance available?
  • What is the guest policy? Are there varying rules for overnight guests, visitors, or extended stays?

If you think you may receive an eviction notice or need help with a housing legal issue, request services online from GLS.

These questions and answers are provided for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Legal advice cannot be given without information about your specific situation. 

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