Understanding Your Lease
A lease is a legally binding document. Read it carefully. If you have any questions or concerns about the specific wording, or whole clauses in the lease, consult a lawyer before signing. Following are some standard clauses you may want to review closely. Know the answers before you sign.
What happens if you break the lease?
The standard penalty for breaking a lease is forfeiture of security deposit and payment of two months’ rent. Check the specific terms in your lease. If your job requires you to move, you may request a transfer clause in your lease.
When is rent late, and how are late fees calculated?
Most landlords give a five-day grace period for rent payment. What this means is, if rent is due on the first day of the month, you can pay as late as the fifth day with no penalty. If you pay on the sixth day, late fees begin to accrue.
The standard charge is a flat fee plus $5.00 per day, retroactive to the first day. So if you pay on the sixth day, you owe $30 in late fees. If you pay the rent without paying the late fees, the rent is considered in arrears and late fees will continue to accumulate.
The result can be astounding. I have heard of people owing several months of late fees, hundreds of dollars, and they didn't realize it until they moved out. (The landlord has no obligation to inform you of accruing late fees). They forfeited their security deposit, and were handed a bill for the remainder. This is perfectly legal, so pay attention!
When do you need to give notice?
Notice is expected when your lease is scheduled to expire. Most landlords require a 30-day notice prior to vacating the unit. If notice is required in writing, your lease will state that. Do exactly what the lease states.
It is becoming more and more common for landlords to require a 60-day notice. Read your lease carefully. You may request a 30-day notice period, and some landlords will make that adjustment. Just make sure you follow the terms of your lease to the letter.
When should you get your security deposit refunded?
By Missouri law, the landlord has 30 days to inspect the premises, make necessary repairs, and either refund your deposit, or give you notice of forfeiture.
If he keeps your deposit, he must provide you with a written explanation -- complete with repair expenses outlined and accompanying receipts.
If your landlord fails to either refund your deposit or give you an explanation as to why he did not, you may file a claim in small claims court. The judge can award you as much as double the security deposit as damages. It's a lengthy process, but the lessee almost always wins.
Remember, a lease is a legally binding document with serious ramifications, particularly in terms of your credit report. Failure to follow the terms of your lease may result in difficulty or inability to rent again. More importantly, it may seriously damage your future ability to buy.
The above information is merely advice, based on Apartment Search’s 20 years of experience in the St. Louis apartment industry. As our property information sheets say, the information is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed. Before entering a legally binding document, always consult an attorney.