Looking for the perfect place to rent? Spring is one of the best seasons to find a new place, with students moving out of the homes they lived in during the school year and warmer weather making for easier moves. But before you decide on a new rental to call home, make sure you have a handle on which expenses you’ll be expected to pay — and which ones your landlord should cover.
When it comes to figuring out who pays for what, the rental agreement is usually the final word. But some situations might not be so straightforward.
Read on to see the most commonly contested expenses your landlord should pay, and what you should look for prior to renting a new apartment.
Costs for Normal Wear and Tear
When you live in a property for a year or more, it’s just natural for things to get worn out during the time you’re there. Most landlords chalk that up to the cost of doing business.
Still, “normal is a subjective concept,” said Mindy Jensen, community manager of real estate investment site BiggerPockets. “Things like carpet wear after several years is considered normal; holes in the wall are not.”
That leaves some murky ground, however. What about damage caused by pets? Cracked tiles? Crayon on the wall? If there isn’t a provision in your lease, you can probably expect to pay.
Click through to see some not-so-obvious costs that come with renting an apartment.
Costs for Some Repairs
This one is definitely a case where it pays to know your rights when you first move in.
Landlord tenant law requires your landlord to keep the rental property in habitable condition, according to the site FindLaw. That means the building must be structurally sound, have hot and cold water, as well as safe plumbing, electrical and heating systems. At the same time, those renters’ rights don’t extend to leaky faucets, running toilets or torn window screens.
“Some landlords require the tenant to pay the first certain dollar amount of any repair. This isn’t a policy I like or agree with,” Jensen said. Why? The policy can cut down on frivolous repair requests, but it can also keep tenants from calling when there’s a bigger problem, one that’s potentially damaging to the property. “Like a water leak,” she said.
Your best bet is to talk to your landlord — before you move in or sign the lease — about any potential repair costs and who will be responsible for each. That way, you’ll know upfront what bill you’ll have to foot, and your landlord will know you won’t leave a plumbing leak unattended.
When it comes to maintenance and repairs, your landlord should be paying those costs, Jensen said.
“And a good landlord will practice preventive maintenance, like having the furnace, air conditioner and water heater inspected every season,” she said. Included in those maintenance costs should be necessary repairs for all the “appliances provided with the property.”
All of that should be included — unless it says otherwise in your rental agreement. Even if you’re sure a repair is covered by your landlord, don’t pay for repairs without getting written approval from your landlord first. If you’re hoping to get “repayment or rent reduction, that should also be in writing before the repair,” said Jensen.
Special Assessment Fees
Properties with a homeowners association or within a condominium complex come with a whole extra set of questions: Who will pay the HOA fees or planned unit development fee? Do the governing associations allow renters in the first place?
It’s much better to find this out before you sign the lease and move in. No one wants to get saddled with an extra bill, or get booted after they’ve hauled their furniture through a narrow front door or up a freight elevator. And breaking a lease can cost you — big time.
Still, in most circumstances, who pays the HOA and PUD fees is up for debate. If “a special assessment is levied, that should be the responsibility of the landlord, rather than the tenant,” said Jensen. Special assessments can cost thousands of dollars, sometimes more, so the landlord’s responsibility is well worth knowing about.
Pest Control Costs
Who pays the exterminator is a “frequent subject of debate,” said longtime landlord and frequent renter Kate Horrell, adding that “a thoughtful landlord has carefully considered the issue and included appropriate language in the lease.”
Tenant screening service RentPrep offered further guidance, saying it’s usually an issue of maintaining habitable living conditions. That means unless an infestation is caused by tenant behavior or action, the landlord is required to pay.
So, if your dog’s fleas get in the carpet, that’s on you as the renter. But if you have mice from an adjacent grassy field, your landlord should pay up.
Tenants’ Rights and Safety Measures
Most states, townships and municipalities consider it the landlord’s responsibility to maintain a secure environment for tenants. That means the landlord should pay for a deadbolt and pin lock in the door handle as a standard precaution. If you’re in a high-crime area, your landlord could be responsible for installing exterior lights and trimming tall hedges, so criminals have fewer unseen places to lurk.
Of course, when in doubt, check your rental agreement, which should spell out your rights. “Make sure you read through the entire thing, so you know what you are expected to pay. It should spell everything out, but if it doesn’t, ask your landlord,” said Jensen.
It’s always best to hammer any potential issues out upfront — before you sign the dotted line. Otherwise, you could wind up in “a battle between the tenant and the landlord about who is responsible for what,” Horrell said.
Snow Removal Costs
Maintaining a secure environment also means that the landlord is responsible to make sure “tenants can safely get to and from the house and onto the street,” said landlord-turned-home-remodeler Alex Biyevetskiy. That means the landlord is “responsible for shoveling and cleaning the snow, keeping the driveways clean and free of debris, and keeping any doorways and the curb area clean,” he added.
Of course, as is the case with most tenant-landlord agreements, it’s best to defer to the signed lease agreement. If you have yet to move in, you’re within your tenants’ rights to negotiate for snow removal. If there’s already a clause included that removal is the responsibility of the tenant, you might find yourself fighting an uphill battle.
Lawn Care in Your Rental Agreement
The question of who pays for lawn care can get fuzzy, particularly if you’re renting a single-family home, where it’s more likely the landlord will pass the responsibility on to you. Still, most multi-unit property owners choose to handle the lawn care themselves, according to property management software company RentPost.
Why? Because if you get hurt while using heavy equipment — like a lawn mower — on the landlord’s property, the landlord could face an expensive and inconvenient lawsuit.
Most landlords find it far easier and safer to avoid the potential danger and to foot the landscaping bill. Still, check your rental agreement so you know exactly what you’ve signed up for.
It might not be landlord-tenant law that an apartment is professionally cleaned before a new tenant arrives, but it is expected by most renters today.
“While a landlord may propose to rent the property as-is, renters should push for landlords to professionally clean the apartment in advance of move-in, which is standard in almost all major markets,” said Scott Bierbryer, co-founder and chief operating officer of VeryApt, a Philadelphia-based apartment search startup.
If your would-be landlord has failed to clean, or refuses to do so before you move in, it’s quite possibly an omen of the relationship to come. Before you sign the lease, look elsewhere. You’ll find that most professional property management companies not only pay to have the apartment cleaned, but they’ll also repaint after each move.
Remediation for Health Concerns
A landlord is required to make sure there are no existing health or safety issues in an occupied building. That can include mold and any hazards posed by the existence of lead-based paint, although the details of landlord requirements often vary by location.
At the very least, a “lead paint situation must be properly disclosed” to the tenant, said Biyevetskiy. To keep you and your family safe, ask about a building’s history of mold and lead paint before you sign the lease. If possible, request a copy of any property inspections.
Remember: No matter what the renting laws state, it’s always easiest to walk away before you’ve signed on the dotted line.
Major cosmetic upgrades such as painting are often paid for by the landlord.
“Cosmetic upgrades are usually covered by the landlord because they improve the property,” said Jamie Crouch, a property manager and real estate broker with Home Again Properties. “Most landlords do not want tenants doing repairs or improvements for a number of reasons, including liability. For example, they could be liable if a tenant is painting and falls off the ladder, or if it is an electrical upgrade, such as installing a new ceiling fan, and they wire it wrong and start a fire.
“Also, tenants tend to do a poor job compared to professionals, and that can be very costly to correct,” Crouch added.
Landlords are required to paint a rental property in a multiple-dwelling building at least once every three years, said Peter Sommer, a licensed associate real estate broker with Triplemint. “However, this often goes unenforced, and isn’t a strict requirement if both you and your landlord agree to postpone the paint job,” he said.
Although the landlords are responsible for keeping the paint looking fresh, if a tenant wants a color change, that falls on them to pay for it, said Boris Sharapan Fabrikant, a licensed associate real estate broker with Triplemint.
Some or all appliances are typically included with a rental unit, so if an appliance breaks, it usually falls on the landlord to replace it.
“If the appliance is included, then the landlord is typically responsible for maintaining the appliance,” said Crouch. “If it needs repair or replacement, the landlord typically covers it, unless the tenant caused the damage — then the tenant would be financially responsible for the repair or replacement.”
For example, if the tenant burned out the motor on the garbage disposal because he dropped a screw down it, the tenant would have to pay to replace it.
However, there is no legal responsibility for landlords to provide appliances, according to RentPrep, a tenant screening website. So, make sure you know which appliances and repairs — or replacements — are covered in the rental agreement before expecting your landlord to replace it for free.
Find Out: How to Save for a House While Renting
Water and Sewer Bills
If you live in a multi-family property, the landlord will typically cover water and sewer bills, said Crouch. This is because there is typically one meter for the whole building, and it is hard to determine the amount of water a single unit is responsible for using. But if you live in an individually metered property, the tenant is usually responsible for paying these bills.
“Typically, the party responsible for all utility expenses is noted in the lease agreements,” said Crouch.
Tenants living in a rental property should not be paying property taxes; that is the responsibility of the person who owns the property.
“The landlord always pays property taxes, since they’re receiving the tax benefits from the property,” said Allison Bethell, real estate investor analyst at FitSmallBusiness.com, an informational website dedicated to small business owners.
One advantage the landlord receives from paying property taxes is the peace of mind in knowing that their taxes are paid in full and on time, so that they don’t wind up with delinquent taxes, said Crouch.
Are You a Property Owner? Find Out How Much You’re Really Paying in Property Taxes
In most rental apartments, garbage collection fees are incorporated into the rent, according to Apartments.com. However, make sure you read your lease agreement to know for sure if your garbage bills are paid for by your landlord or you.
“Garbage fees are considered utilities, so it’s up to the landlord to decide whether they’d like the tenant to cover them or not,” said Ryan Coon, CEO of landlord software company Rentalutions. “My recommendation for landlords is to cover those bills, but raise rent to offset the cost. Switching those types of bills over from tenant to tenant can be a pain, and it gives the landlord more control over the utilities.”
Click through to learn how to negotiate your way to a better apartment.
Gabrielle Olya contributed to the reporting for this article.