Signing a lease is something almost all of us do at some point, but there are many things you should know about the property and the property management company before you sign a contract. After all, you are liable for many things (like any property damages), whether or not you actually discuss them with the manager or not.
10 Things You Should Ask Your Property Manager Before Signing a Contract
1. What is the process for recording existing property damages?
When you pay a deposit to the property management company, it provides the company with some financial security in case you unexpectedly break your lease, fail to pay rent or damage the property during your stay. Different companies manage this process in different ways. Some give you a few days to report any damages you find upon moving in. Others ask that you walk around the property and write any damages you find on a document they provide. Others still never bring this up at all and expect the property to stay exactly as it is for the duration of the lease. No matter what the company’s process, it is vital to come to a signed written agreement on any existing damages. You don’t want to find yourself held liable for a chipped porcelain kitchen sink if it was chipped when you moved in!
In the State of Washington the landlord is required to provide the tenant with a move-in inspection sheet. This sheet is for the tenant to notate any pre-existing damage and is designed to protect tenants against damages not caused by them. When tenants move out, a move-out inspection sheet is filled out and compared to the move-in sheet.
2. How long must I give notice before ending my lease and what is the process?
The number of days notice required by a tenant with intention to move out can vary by state, city and company. A typical length of time is 30 days before the last day of the lease but it could be 60 or even 90 days. It’s important to know what the company’s policy is – especially if you are unsure of where you intend to move next – so you know that you will have enough time in your schedule to figure out whether or not you want to renew. Most companies require that you submit your intention to move out in writing so ask them what form that notice should come in and who you should notify.
In the State of Washington a notice before a lease ends is not necessary. The lease is a legal binding contract and ends when it says so, however, most tenants will let us know out of courtesy that they will not be renewing. On a month to month agreement, the state of Washington requires 20 days notice prior to the end of the rental period.
3. Will I have a chance to renew my lease?
Usually property management companies know this ahead of time, but if they don’t, you should expect about 30 days warning that you will not be able to renew your lease. The exact number of days could vary by state, city or company. If you have been good tenants, i.e. paid your rent on time, no violations etc. then you will most likely be asked to renew your lease. The landlord is required to give at least a 30 day notice for any changes in the lease arrangements.
4. What are my responsibilities for ending a lease?
Obviously you will need to move out your belongings by the move-out date on the lease but there could be other responsibilities such as paying to have the carpets professionally cleaned or re-painting any walls you painted during your stay. What about the windows? Do they expect you to wash them? Air-conditioning filters – do they expect you to replace them? You will want to know what your move-out responsibilities are and get them in writing.
5. What are your policies on outdoor maintenance of the property?
If you’re renting a house, townhome or condo that includes an outdoor area, what are your responsibilities for maintaining it? If a tree dies from a disease, are you liable for replacing it? What about flower beds? If they get overwhelmed with weeds because you didn’t have time to maintain them, are you liable? Also, can you plant new things or create new garden beds? If you are allowed, do you also have to remove them before you move out?
6. Are any utilities included in rent?
This will vary by company and property. Sometimes only basic utilities like water and gas may be included; other times, the property may come with things like Internet service. You will want to know this upfront, of course, so you can budget accordingly.
7. Who performs maintenance requests and what is their availability?
Great, so you are having a large family gathering at your house over the weekend and the water heater went out – no hot showers for anyone! Can someone from your property management service come fix it today or do you have to wait to call on Monday? Hopefully, you don’t need to make many maintenance requests during your stay but sometimes issues will crop up. Make sure to get clear information about who you call for requests and when they are available.
8. What is the process for receiving my deposit upon moving out and how long does it take?
Typically, the company will walk around the property the day after you move out, just before the next tenant moves in. They will assess any damages or unmet move-out responsibilities, subtract any costs from your deposit, and then either bill you for any remaining damages or send you your deposit back as a check. It usually takes a week or two to get your deposit back after moving out, but could be longer depending on the property management company. Ask them for the specific amount of time it takes so you can plan your budget accordingly.
9. Will the carpets be professionally cleaned before I move in?
This is up to you but if you are sensitive to allergies (from dust, animals, etc.), you will want to make sure the carpets have been professionally cleaned before you move in. In many states and cities, this is mandated, but you will want to check to be sure.
10. How long did the last tenants stay and why did they move out?
This is a less obvious thing to ask but can reveal things about the property management company or the property itself. Of course, the property manager is not obligated to tell you anything about the former renters but it’s worth asking them to see what they say. If they say something like, “Yeah, they felt uncomfortable in the neighborhood”, you may have something to ponder before signing the lease.
A company has its policies and processes but you are still free to ask questions. You are entering a legally-binding agreement with them so don’t be afraid to get the full information and ask for answers in writing!