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The Top 10 Rental Terms You Need to Know During Your Home Search

How familiar are you with the language in rental leases? If you're like most of us, you can smile and nod your way through a conversation with a landlord. But there are some rental terms you'll want to be familiar with during your next home search. We've put together a list of the top ten terms you'll likely run into while you're in the market for a new place to live, so you can understand what you're agreeing to before you sign a lease.

Ten Rental Terms to Help You Search for an Apartment Like a Pro

Leases are confusing; here are some terms you'll want to know when you get to that part of your rental search. [If you think you want some help, we can do that too. Get a closer look at our Rent Scout services here to learn more.]

1. Lessor/Lessee
The "lessor" will be your landlord. The "lessee" will be you, the one who's leasing the apartment.

2. Certificate of Occupancy
This is a document that all landlords need to obtain for any property they plan to rent out. These certificates state that the property or building follows any property laws and is suitable for living. It's your right to make sure that this process has been properly completed before you sign a lease.

3. Security Deposit
With most leases, you'll be asked to pay a security deposit before you move in. A security deposit helps the landlord know that rent will be paid and will be used to cover any damages to the property when you move out. Before you move in, your apartment will be inspected for any damages, and when you move out, it will be inspected again. If the landlord doesn't find any new damages, you'll get the entire deposit back. However, make sure you're familiar with the security deposit laws in the area you're moving to because they can vary based on what city or state you're in.

4. Damages
Speaking of damages, what exactly is defined as "damage?" This depends on your landlord. For example, some landlords will count holes in the wall from picture frames as damage, and you could be charged. Make sure you ask your landlord what's expected from you, so you don't end up creating damages without realizing. And if there are damages already in your apartment before you move in, take pictures! This way you can't be blamed for them when you move out.

5. Prorate
Landlords will often "prorate" rent or utility payments for tenants who sign leases in the middle of the month. For example, if you moved in on the 15th of a month, your landlord will likely prorate your rent and any utilities for the half of the month that you'll be living in the apartment. This way, you know you're only being charged for what you're actually using.

6. Subleasing
This is when a tenant, who is renting from a landlord, leases their apartment to another tenant, or "subtenant." The subtenant can occupy the entire property or just part of it. If you plan on subleasing, say you're going on a two-month trip to travel Europe, your landlord needs to know. It's best to be open and honest with your landlord so you don't end up with any headaches down the road. The practice of "begging for forgiveness instead of asking for permission," does not apply here. When you review your lease, make sure you're clear on your landlord's terms on subleasing, and if you don't see it mentioned, don't hesitate to reach out and ask.

7. Renter's Resume
Just like in a job interview, your renter's resume is a way that your landlord will try to understand what kind of tenant you'll be. You can use this document to showcase why you're the "perfect tenant" for their property. Your resume should include your current job, educational background, and where you've lived before. If you're a student, make sure you say so. You can also include past roommates or past landlords as personal references.

8. Pet Resume
Many landlords are now requesting a pet resume if you plan on having a pet with you while you're renting. These are similar to a renter's resume, and let the landlord know that the animals won't cause damage or be a nuisance to neighbors. You should include their name, breed, age, weight, vaccine history, and any incidents. Don't forget to include a photo!

9. Credit History
From a financial perspective, a good credit score is a must. Landlords want to know that you will be able to pay your full rent on time each month. Running a credit history on potential tenants is not uncommon, and your utility companies may do the same.

10. Automatic Renewals
You should be aware of when your rental agreement ends. Some leases have automatic renewals, meaning if you are planning on moving after your lease is up, you'll need to contact your landlord and make sure you can get out of the lease. Don't get stuck for another year just because you didn't read the fine print!

Smart preparation is the key to finding a great new home. Do your research, and don't be afraid to ask questions if you get confused about what something means. If all else fails, sometimes it's better to have an expert on your side who can answer your questions and advocate on your behalf. That's where we come in. Our Rent Scout services offer everything you need to make your rental search stress-free, and yes, we can help you understand all the "legalese" of a rental lease.