Signing a Non-Standard Lease

For your first rental apartment, and probably your second, you don't think about it much: you just sign the lease.

Which usually works out, because a lease is pretty much a standard form that everybody in your state uses. It says when your tenancy will start, and when it will end, and how much you will pay in rent and when. The protection for you, the tenant, is that your landlord agrees to supply you with a habitable place, and won't kick you out before the lease ends.

But then sometimes -- and usually not with your first rental -- you end up with a landlord who wants you to sign something that looks like the tax code. There are provisions for paint, and there are provisions for plumbing. And you think to yourself, "What am I getting myself into?"

Keeping in mind that I am realtor, not a lawyer. I will tell you that you shouldn't sign anything that indicates the apartment won't be habitable, i.e., don't sign away your right to hot water. But other than that, what you are getting yourself into is a level of detail that tells you a great deal about the landlord.

Possibility one is that the landlord once had a bad tenant, and was burned, and doesn't want you to do the things the bad tenant did, like paint the apartment purple and break the plumbing.

If you are a good tenant who doesn't plan to do those things, go ahead and sign the lease. You might want to have a conversation first, saying to the landlord, "Wow, it sounds like you went through the mill with your last tenant, don't worry, I have no plans to operate a restaurant out of the apartment."

If the landlord has no tolerance for sarcasm, you'll know.

Possibility two is that the landlord has a neurotic fixation on detail (read: lawyer) and is trying to draw clean, sharp edges around the messy emotional situation of someone else living in their house. Realize in this case what you're getting into, because that landlord might be nice and friendly forever, but also might feel like he can tell you the right and wrong methods of shutting the front door. If he's going to come around every week to check up on you, you can't say you weren't warned.