5 Smart Legal Moves Before You Sign a Lease

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By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on May 30, 2012 7:03 AM

With the housing market in a slump, high unemployment and a disturbing amount of student debt, there's no question that more and more people are turning to the rental market. Got to live somewhere, right?

It's not uncommon for first-time renters to feel overwhelmed by the prospect. It's a lot to take in -- the hunt, the move-in, the possibility of bad neighbors and horrible landlords.

Now, we can't promise you won't land in rental hell. But taking the follow steps before you sign a lease can go a long way in helping you avoid such a situation.

1. Talk to other tenants. Or Google the landlord and the building. You can learn a lot about the area, the property and the management this way. Most disgruntled tenants are perfectly happy to share their annoyance.

2. Inspect the premises. While visiting the property, take a good look at the inside and outside of the unit. Do you see mold or water damage? Evidence of shoddy repairs? How good is security? Are the grounds taken care of? If all is well, remember to document the condition (with photos!) before you move in.

3. Draft a roommate agreement. It's a bit formal, but before you sign a lease, write down who pays for what and any rules of the house. This will protect you in case someone wants to move out.

4. Buy rental insurance. It's cheap, so do it. It'll protect you should something happen to the building or if there's a break-in. The landlord's insurance policy often doesn't cover a tenant's belongings or relocation fees.

5. Read the lease. This is actually the most important thing you need to do before you sign a lease. If you do nothing else, still do this. You need to know your rights and responsibilities, especially when it comes to repairs, guests and use of the facilities.

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