ARGH! 10 Most Hated Things About Leases

Published on September 24th, 2012
By Jennifer Oppriecht

Anger.  Frustration.  Or as Steve Carell so beautifully put it in the critically-acclaimed Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,  “LOUD NOISES!”  Landlords can inspire that kind of reaction, and they generally point to the time-honored scapegoat as the cause:  Your lease.

Leases for apartments in Madison, WI contain a variety of things a landlord and renters can and can’t do.  And most renters aren’t aware of the restrictions until it affects them. We’ve accumulated a couple of the top gripes we hear from our Madison renters, and we’ve tried to answer them from an owner’s perspective why they exist.  We’d love to hear if you have some more fuel to add the fire.

Before we dive in, keep in mind that these laws vary from state to state, so if you’re reading this outside the land of cheese, this may not apply to you.  Okay, here we go:

1. Renters Don’t Get the “Right of First Refusal” on Renewals. Renters are always surprised to learn that the option to renew your lease is not a given.  Madison landlords have no legal requirement to make sure the current resident is first in line when it’s time to re-rent their apartments.

While Steve Brown Apartments gives each renter the option to renew in his or her apartment, it’s a courtesy on our part, not a requirement. Other landlords might opt not to offer a renewal at all.  There’s generally nothing in a lease that says they need to notify a tenant that their apartment is back on the market.  You’ll find more Q&A on lease renewal in this Smarter Renter post.

2.  Most downtown landlords stipulate “No Pets” in the lease. You’re not likely to find bigger pet lovers than the staff and owners at Steve Brown Apartments.  But the issue for most landlords isn’t our love for all things small and furry, there are a number of issues, including:

  • Pets can cause serious damage.  Cat urine, anyone?  The damage a cat or dog can inflict on carpet, cabinets, drywalls can get extremely expensive.
  • Pets disturb neighbors.  A barking dog tends to set off a chain reaction of other barking dogs, which results in complaints to police and obviously landlords.
  • Pets could be a source of liability for us.  If a tenant’s pup bites a neighbor, there is the potential that we, as a property owner, could be named in a lawsuit.

If you really want to rent and have a pet, here are some interesting tips from a landlord (scroll down toward the bottom of the article to find his suggestions.)

3.  If One Person Pays Rent Late on a Joint Lease, Everyone is Responsible.   We hear this one a lot.  Here’s the scenario:  You get to the end of the month, and it’s time for everyone to kick-in for the rent.  Unfortunately, one of your roommates is a little short on cash, and so the rent for your apartment is short. Even though you paid your fair share, you’ll still get a fairly stern letter from your landlord, you’re still on the hook for the late rent, and now you’re also responsible for the late fees your roommate just racked up.

Unfortunately, that’s one of the perils of signing a “joint” lease, which is what the bulk of leases are in Madison.  The alternative would be an “individual” lease, which Steve Brown Apartments uses at a number of their student properties. Under the individual lease, you’re only responsible for your own rent.  Policing your delinquent roommate becomes the role of the owners.  Downtown Madison is starting to see a small increase in the use of this lease, especially with 3-4 bedroom apartments that are tough to rent.

4.  My Roommates Have to Approve My Subletter This especially infuriates renters who are planning on leaving town, and have a great subletter lined up.  But, whether you like it or not, your roommate has to approve the subletter.  As the Tenant Resource Center (TRC) states, “All parties on the lease must agree to any major changes, including adding new tenants.” The TRC also suggests that you make your roommates aware of the fact that they’re partially liable for rent if you can’t find a subletter, but it’s probably best to spend your efforts working hard to find a subletter that’s right for everyone.

5.  The Rent is Due when the Lease Says the Rent is Due.   Did you realize there is a due date on your lease?  Many renters are surprised to find that this is the actual date when the rent is due, and there’s really no wiggle room concerning the matter.  As stated on, “Your lease is a contract with your landlord, and when each of you sign it, you’re bound by its terms.” It’s similar to having to pay your credit card balance on a certain date.  A lease is a contract, just like a credit card agreement, and there is simply a point when the money is due.

6. Check-Out Time Is When Check-Out Time Is On your lease, when it’s time to move out of your apartment, you must move out at the time indicated on the lease.  Why such a stickler on move-outs? Typically, it’s not just the new tenant who is waiting to get into the place.  It’s the cleaning crews, repair crews and inspection teams – many of whom are waiting to move on to other apartments. Our crews are on a tight schedule, and if there are unnecessary delays, it can really back up the system.  Here’s post that refers to the issues you can encounter when people don’t stick to the checkout time.

7. Charging Lockout Fees…Even if You Don’t Lose Your Key If you accidentally lock yourself out of your apartment, your landlord may charge you a “lockout fee” for sending someone over (or even just upstairs) to let you back into your place. It may seem like your landlord is “nickel and diming” you, but again, it’s a question of scale.  The small landlord, who maybe rents out the top floor of his home, may not think it’s a big deal to let you in.

For a management company with thousands of renters, opening doors could become a full-time position. The fees are generally waived the first time you lock yourself out, but if it happens repeatedly you can be sure you’ll start paying for the time it takes to let you back in your place.

8. Restricting Guest Access Some people took issue with landlords restricting access of guests during Madison’s Freakfest Halloween Party last year.  Yet that’s not the only restriction landlords can impose.  For example, guests generally can’t stay longer than six nights in your apartment. The reasons again return to liability, and generally it’s for the renter’s benefit, not the landlord’s.  For example, if a guest over Halloween goes on a drunken rampage and throws a potted plant out the window, the lease will hold the renter responsibility for damages and liabilities, not the guest.

9.  Restricting What You Hang Off Balconies Most leases won’t allow you to use your balconies as storage space (as noted in a previous post), or for hanging items – such as flags, banners, and even candidates’ signs during election times. Why does this restriction exist?  Partially because Madison’s signage ordinances don’t allow it, and partially because these items can become a safety hazard in windy conditions. There are also issues of free speech that most landlords prefer not to get into. One resident may simply want to hang a sign expressing their preference for a candidate, but their neighbor may simply want to hang a sign expressing his or her hatred for a minority group. Allow one sign and you have to allow them all. Sometimes it’s best to handle these potential grey areas by eliminating outdoor signage on balconies altogether.

10.  Non-Standard Rental Provisions   What the heck is a non-standard rental provision, aka NSRP?  In essence, it’s anything and everything that‘s non-standard stuff – things that aren’t part of a typical lease. This is the area where non-scrupulous landlords tend to get a little sneaky.  This section of the lease is not regulated, so it can be “renter beware” when you’re reviewing the NSRP’s provisions. Here are a few examples of what you might find in an NSRP:

  • Specifics on what your security deposit can be used to pay for in the event you have a rental balance or fee assessments at the end of your lease
  • Rights you may be waiving
  • Types of repairs to damages you’re responsible for at the end of your lease

The NSRP is generally the last page of the lease. Yes, you’ll be tired of reading the legalese by this point, but do not skip over this section during your lease review! Does anything else bug you about leases?  Please leave a comment and we’ll try and answer some questions.

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