As COVID-19 continues to exist and housing guidance continues to apply in some areas, homebuyers may find it difficult to follow the usual procedures when moving to a new location. Apartment visits take place virtually, if at all, and often the entire rental process from tenant verification to signing the lease can be done online. Although this is quite practical in many cases, you may still have questions about the risks that arise if you do not see the property or do not meet your landlord personally. We have addressed some typical problems.
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Should I sign a lease without seeing the property?
Depending on how far you move, you may not be able to see a property in person before agreeing to rent. However, during a pandemic, you may not be able to get a personal tour for health and safety reasons, even if you move nearby. In the end, whether you decide to rent an invisible unit or not depends on your risk tolerance and how urgently you have to move.
Before you agree to sign a lease without seeing an apartment, you can consider a few other options:
Drive past the address
If you live nearby to drive, walk, or ride a bike, nothing will stop you from taking a tour at a safe distance. Although you can't see the inside of the place, a quick visit to the address can give you an idea of whether this is a place you'd like to live.
Check out the neighborhood online
If you can't personally check it out, you can also find out about a neighborhood online. A map app or location-based verification app can give you an idea of nearby businesses, transportation stops, and other amenities. There are also neighborhood rating websites that can give you a general overview of what the area might look like for locals.
Find or ask for more pictures
If you are lucky, you may be able to search online for previous offers of the apartment with different photos. If the apartment is in a complex, you may be able to find pictures of units similar to those you are interested in. You can often ensure that the photos are not misleadingly composed.
With this in mind, you can also ask the landlord or property manager to provide additional photos. Under the circumstances, you may find that you are ready to meet the requirements. If they are unwilling or defensive to provide more information, this could be a red flag for hiding something.
If you have specific details, you should contact the landlord or property manager directly. For example, if you want to know what type of flooring is there, whether the stove is electric or gas-powered, or what the total area is, don't be afraid to ask. It may be helpful to take a stroll through your current home to determine what your likes and dislikes are and to address these things specifically. If you need further information, you can also contact an existing or former tenant.
If the landlord or property manager gives guarantees regarding property updates such as replacing the dishwasher before moving in, make sure the promise is noted in writing. A lawyer can also review the lease before you sign it to make sure the important details are covered and you are not at unnecessary risk.
Can I get out of a rental agreement if I don't like the apartment later?
Unless the rental agreement contains provisions for early termination or the landlord or property manager has made a rough misrepresentation (e.g. using fake photos), it can be difficult to get out of a rental agreement you have signed. If you feel you have been forced to sign the rental agreement, or if the conditions were otherwise inappropriate or unfair, it is best to speak to a lawyer.
If you have signed a lease and want to cancel the lease before moving in, you can let the landlord know about your intention to break the lease. Depending on the rental terms, you may be responsible for a cancellation fee and the first month's rent.
Can I negotiate a lease?
Yes, rental rates, rental terms and many other conditions are negotiable before you sign. Whether your new landlord agrees to your requests or not depends on a number of factors, including how competitive the market is and how extreme your requirements are. If you are willing to make offers such as accepting a longer rental period or abandoning the parking space associated with your apartment, your landlord may be willing to compromise. If necessary, ask a lawyer to help you with the negotiations.
This article contains general legal information and no legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for a lawyer or a law firm. The law is complex and changes frequently. For legal advice, please contact a lawyer.