Check the dates set for the term of the lease. Traditionally it is Sept. 1-August 31 (12 months), but in the University area, often the move in date may be the third week of August or the move out date may be early to mid August. While the lease remains a 12 month lease with 12 payments, you may only legally reside in the apartment or house 11 ½ months for example. You need to be informed and plan ahead for this situation in case you’ll be without a place to live for a few weeks between leases when moving.
The notice period is the amount of days required for you to tell the landlord in advance that you do or do not plan to renew your lease at the end of the lease term. It is normally 30-60 days. On some leases it may be up to 120 days. If you don’t tell your landlord that you want to move out at the end of the lease per the notice period (even though the term of the lease is just for 12 months), the lease could continue on a month to month basis per the state of MN landlord tenant law until you provide proper notice.
Many UMN area leases contain a clause about joint and several liability. This means when you and your roommates sign a lease together, you are responsible for the rent as a group, but you are also responsible for the entire amount of the rent as individuals (severally). This means if your roommate(s) leave for any reason, the landlord could demand that you (and/or the remaining tenants) pay that share too, or even the whole amount. It is very important to know your roommates well and whether you can trust them to uphold their end of the lease for the entire year. Some leases are individual leases, meaning each roommate signs a separate lease for their own bedroom and shared space. In that instance, you are not responsible for the rent of others.
Always look for the legal name and address for the owner of the property on the lease. Sometimes you are dealing with a manager or representative for the property for leasing in person, not the owner. This is helpful for the research stage of renting (google the owner or the LLC). Also, your owner should have a physical address listed, not a PO box. Hopefully you won’t need to, but you cannot sue a landlord in housing court through a PO box, you must have an actual address. So if your landlord is only providing a PO box on the lease, that could be a red flag they are trying to avoid legal action later. Ask for an address to be put on the lease if one is not listed.
The property manager is the person who will handle all requests for repairs or day to day problems. There should be a name, phone and email for this listed. If not, ask for it.
Check to see which utilities are included with the lease. Apartments often include utilities like water, electric, gas in the rent. House rentals often require you to be responsible separately for the utilities. If you are responsible for utilities, you can ask to see the prior year’s usage #s so you can budget appropriately. Older homes in the area are often drafty, causing higher gas bills. Plan for it!
Some leases require a parent or guardian (who has more secure income and is a better financial risk) to co-sign the lease with you. They need to be especially aware of the joint and several liability clause if there is one, as they could be on the hook for the entire amount of the rent due if your roommates skip out.
Check for clauses on decor - most say no nail holes in walls, no painting allowed without permission of the management, and so on.
Some complexes provide a parking space in a lot or in a driveway if it’s a house rental. Apartments typically have a separate parking agreement available with a monthly fee to park in a parking garage under the building. It is rare to be included with the rent. If in a house rental, be aware that Minneapolis and St. Paul ordinance state that only two cars should be parked in a driveway outside a house. Many house rentals don’t include the garage space for tenants as the owner uses it for storage. House renters need to discuss who will have cars and who gets to park where if there are less spots than vehicles
It is important to document the condition of the unit at move out. It is good to bring out your unit condition form if you used one at move- in, and mark down the check-out condition. Clean the unit (even if you found it in a dirty condition upon move-in) and try to repair any damages that you’re able to within reason. Take photos of the cleaned unit and any damages that remain at check-out in case you need to challenge the withholding from the security deposit. Your landlord should mail you a list of the damages and costs to be withheld from the deposit (with any refund) within 3 weeks of you 1) moving out, 2) returning your key and 3) providing a forwarding address (tip: provide your forwarding address with your last rent payment). It’s helpful to keep the envelope in case you need to work with University Student Legal Service about the deposit. Don’t deposit the check if you plan to challenge the withholding and your refund amount. Make copies to share with USLS.
These clauses may put limits on how loud you and your guests can be, and fines if the property receives a “noisy or unruly assembly” citation while you live there (even if you aren’t home at the time of the offense).They can also include clauses about police visits and authorize management to fine tenants if the police are called to the property (usually for noise/party complaints). Some also include limitations on common source beverage dispensers (i.e. kegs) so check for any rules in your lease before hosting a gathering.
If your lease allows pets, be sure to check for any weight limits, type limits or amount limits. Pet policies may also require a separate deposit agreement with a non-refundable fee.
Many leases include a clause regarding whether they allow subletting or not. Most do, but stipulate they must approve the subletter in advance and sometimes require a separate fee for subletting too.
Look for clauses on yard care if it’s a house rental as most require the tenants to do the yard care, but should provide the tools to do so, and a reduction in rent if it’s required per state ordinance. Many will state the rent listed already includes a reduction in rent for the yard care. If not, you should ask for it. The default in the state of MN is that landlords are responsible for yard care, hence the reason many leases stipulate the tenants have to do it instead.