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Tips for tenants: Negotiating the lease agreement

By Sadiya Anjum

It is extremely essential to read any legal contract before signing on the dotted line and this goes even for a rental agreement. For what is stated in the agreement binds you legally to follow it and ignorance of its contents could lead you into serious trouble. While reading the rental agreement, its important to scrutinize it to see that you are getting a fair deal. Since ideally the landlord draws up the lease agreement, you will be hard put to find one that favors the tenant equally.

Here are some basic tips that you can follow to get your negotiations started, get through the process smartly and ultimately receive the fruit for your labor.

Reading the agreement in advance:

Begin with asking your landlord to send you a copy of the lease before the date on which you are supposed to sign. This will give you time to analyze the agreement and do your homework. Check to see that the conditions your landlord verbally stated are now accurately written and do not have any hidden clauses. Preferably get an attorney to examine the lease for you so he/she can point out discrepancies and explain anything you havenít fully understood. Most attorneys can go through a lease agreement in less than an hour, so hiring one for the job will not be an expensive affair. In case you havenít been able to get your hands on the lease and the date for signing has drawn near, donít panic. At the signing, take time to read it and if you can, take an attorney there to get things going.

Doing your homework:

Try and gather as much information as you can about the landlord. Are you renting from a corporation with a hundred units or from a person who is maintaining just that one property? Knowing these details will help you determine which points you can negotiate and how to go about it. The truth is you canít battle over every single detail; you will have to pick the ones that most affect you and the ones that can be altered.

Picking the points youíre going to talk over is just as important as finding valid reasons for them. For instance, if you have assumed responsibility for half the maintenance work and payment for some utilities, then maybe the rent is too high when pitched against this.

Put on your landlordís shoes. Reason and predict the responses and arguments the landlord will present and see how you can counterattack them. Figure out what you will do if negotiation over a particular point fails Ė know what you are willing to compromise on and what you will fight for.

The Negotiation:

Negotiate with the landlord and not any third party like a broker. Speak to the person who has the authority to make the changes in the agreement or you will just be wasting time. Negotiate on the day of signing the lease. This is owing to the fact that by that time the landlord is satisfied with you and wants you as a tenant. So he too may have something to lose if the negotiation fails. Before starting to negotiate, ask questions - doubts about the lease or any other questions to your landlord. This will create an impression of a tenant who cannot be fooled and is genuinely interested in safeguarding his/her rights as well as the landlordís. Showing responsibility can help warm up the landlord for negotiation. See if your broker can help you negotiate but make sure that there are a minimum number of people involved during negotiations. Too many people, too many mouths and too many inputs can create chaos and confusion.

During negotiations, always keep your cool. Do not raise your voice and stay calm even if the landlord is roaring. Also do not make ultimatums (like I will not sign if you do not change this clause) unless you mean it. Otherwise it is just in poor taste and leaves a bad impression if you do land up signing the agreement. Reason out: try and show him why a particular point is unfair or why it will work out better in some other way. Be patient with his arguments and tell him that while you understand, it really isnít beneficial to you. Point out the positive facts that make you a good tenant like a good credit history, good recommendation from previous landlord etc.

After settling on the amendments that need to be made, get it in writing before you finally sign. Your landlord is probably going to expect you to negotiate but make sure that when you do it, you do it right and appropriately.  

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