You may encounter many bumps and obstacles in renting your first apartment. Not everything can be covered in one article, so always call Davis Miles when you have a specific question about renting. Here are a few issues that pop up over and over:
READ THE LEASE. The first and most important thing is to read the lease before signing it. It may be tedious and confusing, but a lease is much simpler to read than many contracts you’ll have to sign in the future. Reading this one will get you used to legal language, will warn you about possible problems and will make you think of questions you didn’t even know you had. Any changes to the lease need to be made in writing before you sign it.
The landlord can only ask for one month’s rent for the security deposit, but can also ask for the last month’s rent in advance.
The landlord may keep all or part of the security deposit at the end of the lease term for damage done to the apartment, but not for “reasonable wear and tear.” Some wear on the carpet or smudges on the walls would probably be wear and tear. Cigarette holes, bleach stains, extreme pet odors (assuming pets are allowed), broken windows, etc….would be considered damage. Don’t hesitate to argue with the landlord if he or she retains your deposit for something you don’t think is really damage. If the lease says that the tenant has to pay for carpet cleaning at the end of the lease, then you must pay for that. If not, you don’t, unless you got the carpet unreasonably dirty.
The landlord must send you a written summary of how much of your deposit is being kept, and for what reason, within 30 days of the end of the lease. If this isn’t sent in time, the landlord cannot withhold any amount for damages, although you still must pay any unpaid rent or utility charges. You should give the landlord a forwarding address, or the notice and any refund will just go to the old apartment address.
When you move in, you should walk through the apartment, preferably with the landlord present, and make note of, or take pictures of any unusual dirt or damage. When you move out, you should do the same thing. Not all landlords will agree to do a “walk-through” at the end of the lease, and if not, you should do it yourself, taking pictures throughout.
Your landlord isn’t going to be interested in which one of you is making noise that bothers other renters, or which one of you is making a mess in the apartment, or in why one tenant moves out before the lease ends. You and your roommates should have a written agreement among yourselves about noise, cleaning and other such issues. But the landlord will hold all of you accountable for the actions of any one of you.
If you don’t want to have to pay your roommates’ rent if one of them gets behind, or moves out before the lease ends, get the landlord to agree in advance to only charge you for your share, and get this in writing. If you don’t, you could end up having to pay the whole amount.
The landlord may require you to get a co-signer on the lease before you can rent. Remember that whoever co-signs will have to pay for all the rent and all the damages you owe if you don’t pay. Being a co-signer is the same as being the main signer. Your grandmother won’t be happy if she ends up paying the rent your roommates didn’t pay when they moved out early.
Length of Lease
The lease will say if it is for a period of several months, or for only month-to-month.
If you leave before the end of a lease that’s for a term of months (or years), the landlord has to try to find a new tenant to take it for the rest of the lease term. Until then, the landlord has the right to demand that you pay for any months remaining on the lease for which another tenant could not be found. If you tell the landlord you have to leave early, the landlord may work out a deal with you to let you buy out the rest of the lease by paying some, but not all of it. If so, be sure to get any such agreement in writing.
A “month-to-month” lease means that you can stay either until the landlord gives you notice, or you give the landlord notice ending the rental. Notice must be given in writing at least 30 days before the next rent payment is due. If you normally pay on the first of the month and give notice, for instance, on July 10 that you will be moving out at the end of July, you’ll have to pay for all of August, too, not just up till August 10. If you had given notice on June 30th, you would only have to pay through July. For the same reason, the landlord would have to give you written notice to move out no later than June 30th if he or she wants you out by July 31. You and the landlord can agree on a different move-out date. If so, get it in writing signed by both of you.
There is much, much more than this to landlord tenant law. Call Davis Miles anytime to ask an attorney your specific questions at (480) 733-6800. Also, For a terrific brochure about landlord/tenant rights and obligations, go to: http://www.lawhelpnewmexico.org/?q=content/new-mexico-renters-guide-english (both English and Spanish guides are available at this website.)