Rental Agreement Traps

by Lee Grayson

Researching neighborhoods, locating prospective apartment complexes, and then visiting the units to select a home requires a major investment of time and energy. Renters should also take time to study the rental agreements to ensure the contracts don't have a collection of traps that can make their selection less desirable. Some states have strict legal protections against using vague contract terms and phrases that allow for renter traps, but other states rely on renters to identify contract wording with potential problems. In some cases, you may need to ask for outside professional assistance in translating and interpreting contract terms. Your research helps to protect you against unscrupulous landlords.

Market Rent

Legal contracts must list a date the rental agreement begins and also an end date. Agreements frequently also contain clauses to continue the agreement as a month-to-month rental contract or modify the amount of rent due after the contract ends. Rent modifications occasionally convert your rent amount to reflect area rents at the time your agreement expires. This contract condition allows your landlord wide range to interpret a rental market rate. A contract that includes a specific cash amount increase or a percent increase over the rental amount for the prior contract, rather than one based on market rates, protects you against a common agreement trap and gives you control over the rent you pay.

Contract Play

Disreputable landlords can use the fine print in a contract to hide traps and create a pressure situation for you to sign. The Utah Legal Services recommends asking for a blank copy of the lease prior to the signing meeting, advice that applies anywhere. This gives you time to read the document carefully and to ask for professional assistance when the terms appear to be fuzzy or to unnecessarily favor the landlord in disputes or disagreements.

Unit Switch

Traps might include a bait-and-switch technique involving the apartment unit. Your new landlord takes you on a tour through an amazing unit that has new appliances, carpet and paint, but make sure your lease specifically lists that unit number in your lease or you might end up with a smaller apartment with dingy paint, old appliances, and a location on the back alley near the tenant garages. Don't rely on verbal promises. Utah Legal Services recommends including the apartment unit number as part of your formal lease agreement.

Special Conditions

Rental agreements sometimes include unreasonable conditions for the tenant to meet to receive the special terms initially offered after the first month of the lease. Your landlord knows that you don't want to spend money to move, so you might forfeit the reduced rent or special considerations just to stay in the apartment or house. Other lease traps include advertising signs and fliers distributed during the sales pitch for the complex that claim the management company pays for utilities when the lease specifies that the free utility payments happen only during the first month of the rental contract, or only for residents signing leases during certain months of the year.

About the Author

*I have written chapters and articles for Oxford and Harvard University Presses, ABC-CLIO, and others. Arcadia Press published two of my local history texts and I have also written for numerous "article sites," including Pagewise in 2002. My "How to become a...real estate agent" is available as an online text from a Canadian publisher. *I taught writing courses at a branch campus of Indiana University. *I held a California real estate license and have remodeled four of my own homes and advised others on financing homes, repairing credit to qualify for loans, and managing construction (including meeting local, state, and federal regulations for restoration and development grants). *I served as an AmeriCorps*VISTA volunteer and wrote nearly $75,000 in small education grants (under $1,000). *My travels include frequent road trips in Canada, Mexico, U.S., and Europe. I attended school at Cambridge University and used this as a base to explore the UK and Europe.

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