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Signing an Apartment Lease

Once your application is approved, you’re faced with signing the apartment lease and the somewhat painful process of paying the various fees.

Get ready to shell out a lot of money because you will be required to pay the landlord the first month’s rent as well as the last month’s rent, security deposit and if you used a broker, a broker’s fee.

Breakdown of fees

In addition to the traditional first and last month’s rent, you will be required to pay two other fees.

  • Security deposit: You can expect to receive the majority of your security deposit back upon vacating the apartment, but one way to ensure you’ll get it back is to do a walk-through with the landlord and record every possible defect, ding, dent and imperfection that you see before you take occupancy. Take photos. Keep a list of items that are damaged or need repair and make sure the landlord agrees and signs the list. (Learn more about security deposits here.)
  • Broker’s fee: If you are renting an apartment through a broker, you will also have to pay the broker’s fee, which is between 8-15% of the annual rent or equal to a month’s rent. All of these payments must be made prior to or upon signing the contract. (Read more about pros and cons of using a broker.)

Example of a down payment and fees of a 3,000/month apartment:

Down payment and fees for $3,000/month apartment
First month $3,000
Last month $3,000
Security deposit $3,000
Broker’s fee $3,000
Total $12,000

Review the lease

At this point, you will also receive the rental agreement – a lease — that you and your roommate (and guarantors, if applicable) need to sign. It’s important to review the document carefully even though the majority of the rental contracts are boilerplate documents that landlords find online. Look carefully at the following items:

  • Terms of lease. Are you signing a 12-month, 18-month, 24-month agreement? When is the move-in date?
  • Payment of rent. How and when are you required to pay the rent? What if you miss a payment or are late? What are the late payment policies?
  • Guarantors. How will they be contacted and involved if you as the tenant fail to pay rent?
  • Who is the super and what sort of repairs is he responsible for?
  • Sidewalk care. When it snows, who is responsible for snow and ice removal?
  • Theft or damage. If there is severe damage or theft to the apartment, who is liable? (Learn more about renter’s insurance here.)
  • Decorating. Can you paint walls or hang prints?
  • Security deposit. Did the landlord pencil-in costs for cleaning that will not be returned to you? (e.g., carpet cleaning)
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