Know Before You Go: Rights & Obligations Tenants Should Look for in their Lease

The Warranty of Habitability Act of 2008 introduced much-needed standards and protections for both landlords and tenants in the state of Colorado. Now that we have a solid foundation for reference, there are some key things to focus on when beginning a new rental relationship. With good communication as well as knowledge and understanding of what you should check for in your lease regarding your rights and responsibilities as a tenant, the landlord/tenant relationship need not be contentious. Here we provide you with an overview of things to know before you sign and top recommendations of steps to take when moving in.  

When reviewing your lease, it is important to be mindful of certain rights and obligations that may be specifically outlined in your lease agreement and that you should ensure you have clarity on. The following is a list of items you should consider before entering into a new residential lease:

How much is your rent monthly?

  • Are there any noted circumstances that make the rent amount variable? If so, what are those circumstances and by how much does the rent vary?
  • Is the monthly rent amount inclusive of any utilities?  If so, which ones?
  • If the rent amount does not include utilities, can the Landlord inform you of historical utility costs for that area?

When is your rent due each month?

  • Does the Landlord give you a grace period before the rent is considered late?
  • What is the late fee / penalty, if any?

How much is your security deposit?

  • What are the terms surrounding the return of your security deposit?
  • Will you receive interest on your security deposit?
  • Can your security deposit be used in lieu of your last month’s rent?

What is the pet policy?

  • If pets are allowed, are there limitations on what types of pets are permitted and/or limits on how many?  (fish, birds, cats, dogs, snakes)?
  • For any permissible pets, are there weight restrictions?
  • Are there fees and / or additional rent amounts associated with having a pet on the premises?

Are you permitted to make any alterations to the property such as painting, installing shelving or carpeting?

  • If so, what types of alterations are allowed and considered improvements versus what types of alterations are restricted and considered damage?
  • If alterations are permitted during your lease term, will you be required to return the premises back to its original condition upon moving out?

Are there any restrictions on how you might use the property?

  • Is there a limit to how many tenants are permitted to reside on the premises?
  • Is it a requirement that all tenants be related?
  • Are there limits on the number of nights an overnight guest may stay at the property?

What are your rights and obligations with regard to maintenance and repair of the property?

  • How do you notify the Landlord of damage or needed repairs?
  • Are you permitted to make repairs on your own and submit any expenses for reimbursement?
  • What is the timeframe by which repairs should be completed?

Do you have the right to advance notice if the Landlord (or an agent of the Landlord) wants to enter the property?

  • Are there special circumstances for emergencies that enable the Landlord or Landlord’s agent to enter the premises without providing any notification?
  • How much notice must the Landlord give you?

Do you have the right to withhold rent if the Landlord breaches the lease?

Do you have the right to renew your lease?

  • If so, how much notice are you required to provide if renewing?

Do you have to give notice if you are not going to renew?

  • If so, how much notice are you required to provide if not renewing?

Do you have the right to terminate the lease early?

  • If so, on what grounds?
  • How much notice are you required to provide if terminating early?
  • What fees / penalties / forfeitures will you incur, if any, upon terminating a lease early?

Are there particular cleaning requirements you are responsible for upon lease termination?

  • If so, what are they?

Now that you’ve got that squared away, you’re all ready to move in! Given that moving into a new home can be a very exciting and busy time, it’s easy to forget some of these fundamental steps that all tenants are advised to take when moving into a new space. Use this checklist as a reminder to help you seamlessly move into your new home.Taking a few minutes at the start of your lease term to review these items, can save you much more time and potential frustration later. Remember communication (and a good checklist) are the keys to a harmonious landlord/tenant relationship.  

Tenant To-Do’s When Moving In:

[]     Read the lease in its entirety inclusive of any riders

[]     Complete a walk-through of the entire premises making note of any
        pre-existing damage and ensuring all utilities are in working order.
        Complete a pre-existing damage form detailing any notes    
        issue/needed repairs at the time of move-in.

[]     Check running hot water, flushing toilet, running shower, etc.  Use
        video recording and/or pictures to document your review and the
        conditions.  Create a list of any nonworking functions/utilities and
        be sure to bring it to the landlord’s attention right away.

[]     If lease indicates that you are responsible for paying your own
        utilities, be sure that there is a separate meter specific to your unit
        for each utility indicated.

[]     Tenant-paid utilities should be turned on in advance (by the tenant)
        to ensure proper habitability upon moving in.

[]     Confirm rent payment method.  
        Check?
        Mail or drop-off?
        Electronic transfer?

[]     Be sure you understand the term of the lease particular to the
        duration (month-to-month, one-year, etc.)

[]     Make sure you document any communication regarding alterations
        or modifications to the dwelling.  

[]     Are there at least two means of escape? (Fire escape, etc.)

[]     Obtain renter’s insurance.  Landlords, typically, are not responsible
        for damage to a tenant’s personal belongings.

[]     Make sure to note any of the following issues on your move-in
        checksheet:

All units must include a working smoke and carbon monoxide detector
Broken windows or doors
Broken or missing exterior locks
Insufficient waterproofing and weather protection on exterior roof and walls
Nonfunctioning plumbing or gas facilities
Lack of clean, running water
Insufficient heating facilities, including lack of sufficient hot water
Defective electrical wiring and/or lighting
Infestation by rodents and/or other vermin
Insufficient trash cans
Unclean or rubbish-filled common areas under the landlord’s control [such as external walkways, or shared hallways and stairs]

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As always, the publication of this post does not create an attorney-client relationship. Nor can the posting be considered “advice” as every situation needs to be evaluated according to its own facts. These posts are intended as informational only and you should always contact an attorney licensed in your state for information about your specific situation.