Leases just protect the landlord, right?
This is an important topic to tackle head-on as there may be a stigma associated with signing a lease. Of course, a landlord is going to write up a lease that protects themselves and their property, but some tenants may not realize that there are many reasons they should want to sign a lease themselves because of the built-in state tenant protection laws.
We’ve heard of travelers sending a deposit to secure a property without a signed lease in place. In this situation, you are really rolling the dice because without a written document outlining all the details; you are subject to a he-said/she-said situation which leaves you venerable. And really, why leave these things up to chance?
The most obvious reason to have a lease in place is to simply define the lease’s terms. It sets the tone for what is expected and lays out the parameters for both parties. While tenant/landlord laws are different in every state, a lease will define the standards and requirements which are designed to protect each party.
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Now, we’ve all signed stuff we couldn’t possibly read entirely… like when you purchase a car or get a mortgage, but a residential lease is NOT one of those documents. First of all, we encourage every traveler to request a lease before any money is exchanged. This should be a hard & fast rule. Secondly, taking the time to read it carefully is the best possible thing you can do at this point. Leases can be explained and even changed, so if you see something you are uncomfortable with, or maybe you just need some extra clarity around a specific term, speak up right away. Once you sign your lease, all negotiations end.
Here are some of the most important terms in a lease:
As a traveling professional, you may want to search for a month-to-month lease rather than a 3-month minimum lease. It all depends on what is available in the area at that time, but if you have the luxury of choosing between the two, the M2M lease will give you much greater flexibility.
Notice to Vacate
This is important to pay attention to because what good is an M2M lease if they require 60 days’ notice to vacate? That is an example, of course, but you get the idea. Travelers need flexibility as much as possible, so a 30-day notice to vacate is standard. That said, however, travel nurses don’t always get the luxury of knowing 30 days out if they’ll renew or go to work somewhere else, so you should have a conversation with the landlord before you sign the lease, so they understand your situation. The landlord has to protect themselves, of course, but they also need to appease their tenant, so this is a conversation worth having before a lease is signed and may result in favorable terms.
Every travel nurse needs to know what will happen if your contract is suddenly canceled and you need to leave unexpectedly. The lease will often explain the worst-case scenario of what you would be responsible for should you leave before the end of your lease, but this should absolutely be a conversation you have with your landlord prior to signing the lease. Some landlords offer more flexible lease terms for travel nurses, so always talk to the landlord beforehand about this specific scenario.
Next, a lease will define the price you’ll pay and what is expected from you at move-in/move-out. Security deposits are also a very important piece of the puzzle that should be clearly defined, so there is no confusion at move-out. The keyword to look for is “refundable” to make sure you can recoup your security deposit, assuming there was no damage to the property. A cleaning fee is usually a separate charge and is not refundable.
The lease will also tell you how much the monthly rent is when the rent is due and what happens if it is received late. Try to set up an auto-payment at the same time each month so you can essentially eliminate the chance of incurring any late fees.
Pro Tip: There are many ways to pay your rent, but try to pay rent with a credit card when possible. When you pay rent with a credit card, you have built-in consumer rights that you won’t have with a check or other type of payment. It can also be a great way to earn reward points and to even build your credit over time. The trick is, of course, to always pay off the credit card immediately, so you’re not carrying any of that balance.
Utilities should be included in a furnished rental which should always be specified in a lease. More importantly, it should also identify any utilities that are not covered or capped (meaning sometimes landlords say they will pay up to $x per month for heating or electricity and anything over you are expected to pay). Sometimes apartment complexes will offer you a short-term lease. However, the furniture and utilities are not included, so make sure you know what is included in the rent.
Make sure you know their pet policy, including non-refundable pet fees, which may limit the number and type of animals you can bring (i.e., two dogs maximum. 45lb max, no restricted breeds). Expect to pay a little bit more if you’re going to travel with your best friend. Also, you absolutely must disclose that you are bringing a pet if that is your intention. Even if it is a registered service animal, just showing up with your dog is unfair to the landlord and will most likely be a breach of contract.
Nobody wants to be inconvenienced, and most of us don’t like surprises when it comes to our living situation, so make sure you know what is included in the property. What is the parking situation? Many places have ample street or driveway parking, but parking comes at a premium in busier cities, so be sure you know the parking situation/limitations. Likewise, what is the laundry situation? You’ll want to know if there is a washer/dryer in the unit, in the complex, or a couple of blocks away. Also, some landlords may impose limits on who can live at that property, so if you’re traveling with a friend or spouse in tow, be sure that the landlord is aware.
Leases Protect Tenant Too!
Again, a tenant should never send any money without a signed lease in place. Because every lease is different, tenants need to be very intentional and specific about understanding what is in the agreement they are about to sign. Once you sign, you accept everything just the way it is written, so if one of the terms is confusing or too prohibitive, make sure you speak up immediately. If you can negotiate better terms for yourself (ex. asking for a discount on rent, lower security deposit, or a shorter notice to vacate), now is the time to do that.
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