Renting a Room
Some people will rent a room in their home or may have a garage (or separate) apartment in their house to rent. If you are renting a garage or separate apartment, you will probably only have access to that apartment, but you may wish to clarify access to grounds, laundry, parking areas, kitchen, living room, etc. You should also find out what is included in the rent, e.g., are utilities included? If not, how is your portion of the bill calculated? Also, are there rules concerning your comings and goings and guests? Occasionally, the property owner may be looking for someone to assist with babysitting or to look after a family member with special needs. If so, make sure that you are clear as to your responsibilities and the amount of time that you are willing to devote to them. Also, make sure you agree and what compensation to expect.
It may be possible to sublet an apartment, condominium, or townhouse, or take over an existing lease. In a sublet arrangement, a person who is leasing an apartment or other property, in turn, leases that property to another person. However, before doing this, verify that the apartment complex or original landlord will allow this arrangement. Many complexes and landlords expressly forbid subleasing and will invalidate any arrangement made in violation of the original lease. The landlord is under no obligation to honor an agreement the subletter made with the original tenant if the original tenant did not have the right to enter into such an agreement.
Renting a House, Condominium, Townhouse, Duplex or Fourplex
It is also possible to rent a house, condominium, townhouse, duplex, or fourplex. There may be more work involved with this arrangement, such as lawn upkeep, maintenance, and small repairs, etc. This is often an arrangement with an individual, rather than a company, so it is important that the lease spell out the terms of the arrangement, and who is responsible for what, such as who will be responsible for maintenance and repairs, lawn work, etc., and when the landlord may enter the property. Additionally, townhouses and condominiums may have a property maintenance and upkeep fee.
Regardless of which of the above options is chosen, there should be a written lease defining exactly what is included in the rent and who is responsible for what in the arrangement. Verbal agreements or arrangements are difficult to enforce in U.S. courts. Also, American courts will generally rule in favor of what is in a written agreement over verbal promises implied or inferred from the landlord. Read your lease carefully and completely before signing it! Do not assume all leases are the same.
Application for Rental
Many apartment complexes require that you fill out an application for rental and pay an application fee before you actually sign the lease. Only take this step if you actually intend to live in a specific apartment because it is sometimes difficult to get this fee refunded. If the landlord rejects your application, (s)he is required to return the deposit, but may not return it if you reject the apartment. Make a copy of the application, and get a receipt for the application deposit.
Some apartment complexes will require a guarantor if you do not meet their financial requirements. A guarantor must be a U.S. citizen and give the landlord information about employment information, financial and credit history, and an address and phone number. The guarantor is equally responsible for the payments and libel for any settlements.
Most places require a security deposit to offset damages or unpaid rent. Information and conditions for the return of the security deposit will be outlined in your lease. Be sure to keep a copy of your security deposit check.
Inspection of Residence
Thoroughly inspect the properties you are considering before taking possession. When you are looking at apartments, ask to see the actual apartment you will be getting. You may be shown a model apartment that is beautifully furnished and well-maintained, but the apartment you are renting is of lesser quality. Also, if you are shown a model, make sure that the apartment you are renting is the same size and floor plan. You may be shown a model of a larger apartment than the one you are renting. DO NOT MOVE INTO your residence if it is not in acceptable condition.
Basic Leasing Principles
If you make any agreements with the manager or landlord, put them in writing and ask the manager to sign them.
Keep copies of all documents and correspondence with your manager, including lease contract, apartment inventory form, canceled checks, agreements, repair requests, letters, notifications, etc.
If you break the lease, you may be held liable for the full amount of the rent for all of the months remaining on the lease.
If you rent with a roommate(s), all names should be on the lease. Some apartment complexes will not do this, or will not alter a lease if a roommate moves in later. Also, most apartments will not rent separately to roommates; i.e., if one person moves out, those remaining are still responsible for the full amount of the rent. In these events, you may be held liable for the full amount and terms of the lease.
Each person whose name does appear on the lease is equally responsible for the terms of the lease. If you bring in a roommate after the lease is signed, and that person’s name is not on the lease, you may be held responsible for that person’s actions, including the full amount of the rent, damages that person does, etc.
Important Clauses in Your Lease
- Parties: Include the names of all roommates on your lease. Any roommate whose name is not on the lease will not be held legally responsible for the unit.
- Lease Term: This tells you for how long the lease is (usually one year, although some places will rent for six or nine months). At the end of the initial lease term, the lease will usually be automatically renewed on a month-to-month basis until notice of termination is received by the manager, but the rental rate may be higher.
- Security Deposit: This will tell you the amount of the security deposit, and the conditions under which the deposit may be returned.
- Rent & Charges: This tells you the amount of the rent, how it is to be paid, the date that it is due, and the penalties for late payment. Some apartment complexes will allow a “grace” period for the rent, i.e., the rent is not considered late until after the 3rd or 5th of the month; other complexes require that the rent be paid by close of business on the 1st of the month. Many, if not most, apartment complexes will not accept cash or credit card payments and require the rent to be paid by check or money order. Most apartment complexes have penalties for late payment of rent, and many have increasing fines the later the payment is.
- Insurance: You are encouraged to purchase renter’s insurance against theft, fire, smoke, water damage, etc. The property owner is not responsible for the safety of your belongings.
- Security Devices: By Texas state law, your apartment must have a window latch on each window; a keyless deadbolt lock on each exterior door; a door viewer on each exterior door; a pin lock, door handle latch, or security bar on each sliding glass door; and at least one working smoke detector on each floor of the unit. If your apartment has a security alarm system, make sure that you understand what is expected of you for its use. Sometimes, there is a monitoring or rental fee. In Harris County, alarms must be registered with the sheriff’s department, and a fee paid for this service; there is a fine for operating an unregistered alarm. There may also be a fine for a false alarm.
- Community Policies or Rules: Ask your manager for a copy of any rules or regulations specific to your apartment complex. These may include rules concerning the use of the swimming pool and apartment grounds, use of barbeque grills, use of patio and porches, etc.
- Reasons for Terminating the Lease: Most complexes will not allow termination of the lease except in very special circumstances, such as military service or being transferred to another town by your job. These reasons, if any, will be spelled out in the lease. If you do not fall under one of these reasons, you will not be released from your lease. You will probably be required to produce proof that you qualify for early release.
- Condition of the Premises: If the apartment is not in the condition you expected, do not move in. If the manager has promised you alterations (e.g., new appliances, painting, repairs, etc.), put it in writing and have the manager sign it. Immediately after moving in, prepare a written list of any repairs needed, worn or damaged fixtures, or other problems, so that you will not be held responsible for them when you leave. For your convenience, you will find a Move-In Checklist at [link to Move-In Checklist].
- Repair Requests: Requests for repairs should be given in writing, with the exception of emergencies involving immediate danger to persons or property. Always date requests for repairs and keep a copy.
- When Property Representatives May Enter: The property manager or repair personnel may enter your apartment at reasonable hours. They may enter with you there or may enter in your absence. If you are not there, they should leave a notice that they entered.
- Multiple Residents or Occupants: Requests or notices given to or from one resident or occupant are considered to be to or from all residents or occupants.
- Pets: If your apartment complex allows pets, this may be in your lease or in a pet addendum. Most apartment complexes that allow pets require a pet deposit for each one. Some also require additional rent. Most also require that your pet meet county legal requirements, which include having their shots, having a license, and being on a leash outside the apartment. Some apartments have restrictions on the size of the pet. Exotic pets are illegal in Houston city limits.
- Move-out Notice: You must give written notice to your apartment manager, generally at least 30 days in advance. Most apartments or rental properties require 30 days' notice, but some require 45 or 60 days. You must give written notice even if your lease is up. You will find a Move-Out Notice form at this link: [link to Move-Out Notice]. When you do move out, many apartment complexes will consider you to be in possession of the apartment (and will charge you as such) until you turn in the key.
- Moving Out Before Your Lease Is Up: If you decide you need to move out before your lease is up, you may wish to consult Student Legal Services to learn about potential consequences. Although you may feel your reasons are valid, it is a breach of contract, and your landlord may be entitled to damages. It is incorrect to believe that all you will lose is your security deposit. You may be held liable for all of the rent you owe for the remainder of the lease. You can be sued for this amount. If you are unable to pay your debt, a judgment can be filed against you, and it could ruin your credit. If you absolutely must move, talk with your apartment manager or landlord, and try to negotiate an agreement. If such an agreement is reached, make sure that it is in writing, and that all parties sign it.