Red Flags in Your Rental Agreement

Be wary of these provisions in your lease, and don’t sign without discussing with your landlord and a lawyer.

Before signing a lease agreement, it’s important to look out for certain warning signs of a potential bad landlord-tenant relationship. Red flags such as unreasonable lease terms, clauses on property access, vague language regarding provisions, and excessive extra costs can leave renters paying well over the rental price plus utilities.

Here are four red flags to look for in your next lease, so you can protect yourself from losing money, moving into a place in need of repair or living with a nosy landlord.

Landlord Access

There are times when your landlord will have to enter your apartment when you’re not around, whether to show the unit to a potential new tenant or to make repairs. In most states though, the landlord must give 24-hour notice. In Chicago, two-days notice is required.

There are exceptions though. Most leases state that landlords can enter in the case of an emergency. Make sure your lease does not have a clause saying that the landlord can enter at any time. As for emergencies, ask your landlord to define these in the lease. Flood, fire, and other extreme weather events are the most common emergency situations when a landlord can enter, according to RentPrep. Though technically an emergency could mean “any situation where an event is causing damage and will continue to cause damage if not dealt with immediately.”


Most repairs are the landlord’s responsibility. If a tenant damages something outside of normal wear and tear, it may be up to them to cover the cost. General maintenance such as broken ovens, plumbing issues, gas and electricity issues, and broken windows and doors are up to the landlord to fix. According to LegalZoom, the landlord is responsible for providing a habitable place to live. This means the unit must be “fit to live in, be free from hazards or defects, and be compliant with all state and local building and health codes.” Check to make sure your lease doesn’t include a provision stating the tenant will be responsible for all repairs.

Security Deposit

Landlords are required to return your full security deposit, so long as you didn’t cause any damage more than normal wear and tear. According to Illinois law, landlords must return the security deposit within 30 to 45 days after the tenant moves out. The landlord must also include an itemized list of items deducted, which the tenant can dispute. Most leases will be vague about security deposit details and what type of damage is outside of normal wear and tear. Ask your landlord to be specific in the lease and lay out a process for assessing damage. Make a list of and take photos of any damage before you move in and share it with your landlord. Then, ask them to specify how they will compare damages when you move out.

Mandatory Insurance

No state mandates renters insurance, according to Effective Coverage, yet some landlords will try to put a clause forcing renters to obtain insurance in the lease. Renters insurance typically covers personal possessions, so it’s something individuals choose to buy on their own. Many landlords have liability insurance on the entire building, which covers the tenant to a point. However, ResidentShield points out that the landlord may not be responsible for injury that happens inside a unit, and individuals may want to look into insurance options for this reason. Recently, landlords have started to shift the burden of liability insurance on to the tenant. Apartments.com says this could be because of more pressure on landlords from their insurance companies. It is not illegal for a landlord to mandate that you buy insurance. However, keep an eye out for a section labeled “mandatory costs” or “tax items” so you know exactly what you’re getting into, and so you can bring it up to your landlord and try to negotiate the terms.

Signing a lease is a big step, as it locks you into a monetary and legal commitment usually for a year or more. Read through your lease carefully, and don’t take your rights as a tenant for granted. An experienced attorney can help you determine what’s normal and what’s not, understand legal jargon in your lease, and make suggestions for where you should go back to your landlord and negotiate. Our team of lawyers at ALA can help you sign your new lease with confidence. Contact us today.

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