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Know Your Lease: 10 Tips When You Rent

Know Your Lease: 10 Tips When You Rent

Source: Kelli Kirwan

Life in the Navy and Marine Corps often involves rental agreements and leases. No matter what your job is in the sea-going services, chances are you'll experience renting a place to call home more than once. Be a smart shopper when signing a lease on a house or apartment. Whether you have rented a hundred times before or you're looking for your first apartment, these tips can save you financial headaches and moving heartaches in the long run.

Tip One: Don't Sign in Haste
Don't sign anything until you've taken the lease or contract to your base legal assistance office. The Navy and Marine Corps have lawyers to help protect and advise Sailors and Marines at no charge. You may feel pressured to sign as soon as you find something you like, but it's worth the time and effort to make sure you're protected. If there is something amiss in your contract, lawyers trained in such matters can advise you on your options.

Tip Two: Anyone Can Put Anything in a Contract
Even if you have signed leases before and are a pro at rentals, don't be lulled into a false sense of security. Every lease or rental agreement needs to be read thoroughly and understood before signing on the dotted line. Assume that there's no such thing as a standard lease agreement and that the lease is not written in your best interest. A landlord can put anything into a contract, no matter how crazy or unfair. When you sign, you're legally bound to the terms of the lease.

You can also write in anything or cross it out before you sign the lease. Any contract can be negotiated. Leases are often negotiated to meet the special circumstances of individuals. The landlord is under no obligation to accept the changes or additions you make, but you have the right to put them on the table.

Tip Three: Don't Assume There is a Military Clause
There is no legal, standard military clause. Leases are often written by the rental agency, landlord, or housing management. Even if they assure you that a military clause is included in your lease agreement, make sure you read it all the way through. You might be released from your lease only if you are issued permanent change of station (PCS) orders. The clause may not protect you in the event of sudden or unexpected deployments.

Don't rely on the patriotism of a leasing agent. If there's no military clause or it's not sufficient to meet the needs of the growing mission demands of the Navy and Marine Corps, you can seek the help of base legal. Attorneys can help alter the lease prior to signing by helping you write an amendment or an addendum. Include wording that protects you in the event that military duty causes you to leave the area or you need to send your family elsewhere.

There is no guarantee the renting agency or individual will agree to the addendum. If that's the case, keep hunting.

Tip Four: Know the Costs of Breaking a Lease
If you find yourself needing to get out of a rental agreement, but there are no provisions provided in your lease, such as a military clause, the cost to you could be enormous. Once you sign any legal contract, you're bound by the terms of that contract. Breaking a contract can cost your deposit, rent for the full term of the lease, and legal fees, such as court costs and attorneys fees for both parties involved. Your credit will definitely take a beating, and it could cost you future rentals.

Tip Five: There is No Right to Rescind
Many people are under the impression that after signing a contract they have three days to change their minds and be released without legal obligation or liability. In many cases that is simply not true when it comes to leasing property. The best course of action is to refer to tip number one: Never sign in haste. Your signature is binding the second you dot your "i"s and cross your "t"s. The right to rescind usually only applies to consumer contracts that are signed by those who sell services, policies, or items in your home. It can vary from state to state and should never be used as legal protection for you against bad lease agreements.

Tip Six: Know Your Responsibilities and the Landlords
Find out if your lease requires you to cover the cost of repairs under a certain dollar amount, provide yard care, or perform some other property maintenance or upkeep.

  • Who is responsible for plumbing bills if a toilet is clogged or an internal pipe bursts?

  • Can your landlord enter without your permission and, if so, on what grounds?

  • Do you need to attend end-of-tenancy inspections?

If you spot something in your lease that you feel uncomfortable with or that is not covered under the responsibilities of the landlord, refer to tip two and negotiate the appropriate changes.

Tip Seven: You Can Lose Your Deposit
Virtually every state requires the refund of security deposits. However, that doesn't mean you will get your full deposit returned to you. Your lease will specify the circumstances under which your deposit may not be returned. Non-payment of rent, damages beyond that of normal wear and tear, proper notice for vacating property, and attendance at an end-of-tenancy inspection are just a few reasons that deposits are withheld. Cleaning is often where dollars are deducted from a deposit. Pay special attention to the condition of the property when filling out inspection sheets before you move in.

Tip Eight: Protect Yourself
There are several ways to protect yourself. If you have never signed a lease or rented an apartment before, do your homework and be familiar with what is usually covered in a lease agreement. It never hurts to be familiar with the basic lease terminology. Do a close-up inspection of the property before beginning tenancy. Attention to detail now can pay off big when you move out 12 or 18 months later.

Before you circle the great places in the paper or hit the streets in search of your new home, check with the base housing office to see if they have a list of recommended agencies, apartment complexes, or individuals who rent to military. They may also be able to help you steer clear of those who have not always dealt fairly with Sailors and Marines. Service members usually have to check in with housing upon arriving at a duty station. This is a great time to find out what your housing office offers.

Tip Nine: Renting With Pets
Pets make wonderful companions, help lower your heart rate, and teach your children responsibility. They can also be a fly in the ointment when trying to rent. Even if there is no provision for pets in a lease, it never hurts to ask. Plead your case with the landlord, but be prepared to send Fido to live somewhere else or keep looking. Renting with pets is not always easy and some sacrifices are made, but for those who love their four-legged family members, it is well worth the extra work and pet deposit.

Tip Ten: Housing is a Priority With DoD
Housing as a quality-of-life issue for Sailors, Marines, and their families continues to be a priority with the Department of Defense (DoD). While new housing is being built at many bases and air stations, there have been efforts to improve the quality of housing in the civilian community as well. The Renter Partnership Program (RPP) helps connect military members and their families with local community property owners that can provide safe and affordable housing. The program is run through your base housing office. So before you sign on the dotted line, stop by and see if the RPP is available in your area.

A little diligence and preparedness go a long way toward protecting you and your family from possible leasing nightmares. Just think, by the time you've done 20 years of military service and lived in 15 homes, you'll be more than ready to find that dream home — and you will know exactly what you're looking for.

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