Questions to Ask the Landlord
- How much is the monthly rent?
- How many people may rent and live in the apartment?
- Are utilities (heat, water, gas, electric, cable, garbage collection) included in the rent? (If you will be responsible for utilities, ask to see copies of the electric and water bills from the prior year.) Ask if any utilities you must pay will benefit other
tenants. If so, this must be specifically described in the rental agreement.
- Where and when must the rent be paid? If the rent is late, is there a late fee? If so, how much is it?
The Rental Application
Must prospective tenants submit a rental application for a lease?
- Is a fee required with the application? If so, what happens to the money? (Some landlords charge an application fee to defray the cost of screening tenants.) If you don’t rent the apartment, will the fee be refunded?
- Does the act of submitting a rental application obligate you to sign a lease?
- What are your obligations if your application is accepted?
- Will you receive a copy of the lease at the time of signing? In South Dakota, the landlord is required to provide tenants with a copy of the written rental agreement and all amendments to it.
- How long is the lease term? May you rent the apartment for less time (i.e., the academic year or for a term)?
- May each housemate sign a separate lease and pay for his/her portion of the rent with a separate check?
- What happens if a housemate leaves before the end of the lease period?
- Will the other housemates be responsible for that portion of the lease?
- Is your parent/guardian required to guarantee the lease?
- If the landlord promises any repair or improvement is that promise written into the lease?
The Security Deposit
- How much is the security deposit? When must it be paid?
- When will it be returned? May it be used as your last month’s rent? What must you do to have it returned in full? Are they returning the current tenant’s security deposit in full?
- Which bank will hold the security deposit?
- Did they return the previous tenants’ security deposit in full? If not, why?
To protect yourself in case of a dispute with your landlord, always keep written evidence of all transactions with the landlord. These records should include:
- Check or receipt for the security deposit. Write on the check the kind of deposit.
- Copy of the lease; landlord should initial any changes agreed to.
- Lists of conditions when you move in and out; landlord should sign these.
- Complaints to landlord or housing inspector should be in writing; keep a copy.
- Oral agreements should be confirmed by sending the landlord a letter stating the agreement and the date; keep a copy.
- All correspondence to the landlord should be certified mail, return receipt requested; keep a copy.
Subletting the Apartment
- May you sublet/assign your lease (i.e., during the summer)?
- Must the landlord approve the sublessee/assignee?
- Is there a fee for subletting?
Right of Entry
- How much notice will you receive before someone enters the apartment to make repairs or conduct an inspection?
- If you don’t renew your lease, will you have to let people in to see the apartment? How much notice will you receive? What if it is inconvenient?
Personal Injuries on the Rental Property
The landlord is liable for physical injuries to all persons legally on the premises caused by condition under the landlord’s control (i.e., common areas such as hallways, stairs, walkways or laundry rooms) that are the landlord’s fault.
Generally, if the landlord actually knows or should have known of the defect which endangered, and causes injury to the life, health or safety of the occupants or others legally there but failed to keep it reasonably repaired, the landlord will be
held liable. A lease clause denying such liability is unenforceable. This very complicated area requires the consultation of an attorney.
Fire and Other Unavoidable Accidents
If the tenant’s “enjoyment of the premises is substantially impaired” by fire or other accident, which is not the tenant’s fault, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement and immediately vacate the premises. A tenant may vacate part of the premises “rendered unusable by the
casualty” and the rent must be proportionately reduced by the “fair rental value” of that part of the premises. You should terminate the rental agreement in writing sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, keeping a copy of the written notice for your records.