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Renting 101: Tips for signing the lease in Billings

April 23, 2017 GMT

As Billings continues to grow, housing demand will likely increase. Those not ready to sign a mortgage should consider signing a lease. If you’re new to the area or renting for the first time, research options, prepare to apply and know your rights before you make a move.

Start the search

There are plethora resources available for viewing rental properties.

“Most property management companies have their own websites,” said Shantile Larwood of Debizel Property Managers in Billings.

Larwood says property management software populates online services, like zillow.com or apartments.com. These websites make it easy to search area properties, narrow results by price and features, and reach out to landlords with the click of a mouse.

Freerentalfinder.com is specific to Billings and Eastern Montana. You can narrow a search by neighborhood, if desired.

Facebook is getting more popular for rental searches, said Larwood. Check the classified listings on billingsgazette.com or craigslist.com for options.

Once you’ve found a listing that meets your needs, do some background research before scheduling a time to view the property. If the vacancy is listed by a property management company, Larwood suggests calling them directly to confirm the listing’s legitimacy.

“Never send money to anybody unless you’ve met them,” Larwood said.

By speaking to the landlord or property manager and verifying the listing, you avoid being scammed.

Room to negotiate

Applying for a property is the first step. Start by completing an application, which usually includes a fee.

“Make sure that you have all documentation required for the application,” said Larwood. “It makes the process go much smoother and can expedite the process as well.”

Credit and background checks are generally part of the application process. Previous landlords, employers and personal references may be contacted.

A lease agreement is drafted once the application is approved. The length of most leases is six months to two years.

“It’s a good idea for a tenant to carefully read the lease before agreeing to rent a place,” said Amy Hall, an attorney with Montana Legal Services Association in Billings. “If there are any terms in the lease that the tenant disagrees with, the tenant has the right to ask the landlord to remove or change that term.”

Try adjusting the rent due date to coincide with your paycheck schedule. The landlord can choose whether to agree. As far as rental amount or a pet policy, sometimes there is a little room for negotiation, Larwood said.

“The law gives the landlord a lot of discretion as to the terms of a lease,” said Hall. “If the term that the tenant objects to is lawful, then the landlord is not required to change that term.”

You have the right to look for another property if the terms don’t meet your needs. Otherwise, make necessary changes to the lease, sign the document and request a copy for your records.

On the move

It’s easy to be overwhelmed on moving day. Larwood advises you to pay attention to details while unpacking.

Landlords and property managers should provide tenants with a checklist which identifies existing problems and prevents extra charges when you move out.

“Once a tenant moves in, we find a lot of times that there’s things here and there that need to be addressed,” she said.

If the faucet is leaking, a cabinet is broken, or something has not been properly cleaned, contact the property manager. They should update your checklist or send a maintenance person to address the problem.

When a lease concludes, renters typically have the option of a month-to-month agreement to stay at the property.

“Month-to-month gives them, the renter, flexibility to keep their options open,” said Larwood.

Deciding not to renew a lease leaves tenants vulnerable to higher rent. If you’re moving soon, a month-to-month term is more advantageous than breaking a lease and losing a deposit. Opt to sign another one if you plan to stay long-term.

Discuss disputes

When problems arise, Hall suggests discussing concerns with the landlord or property manager.

“Communication is key,” she said. “Many disputes can be worked out just by talking to the landlord.”

When disputes are not easily resolved or are based on mistreatment due to a status protected by law, like race, disability or age, it may be necessary to consult an attorney, said Hall. Montanalawhelp.org is a resource for additional information about tenant rights and tools for communicating with landlords.

The nice thing about a rental is that you’re not tied to it for decades. When it’s time to move, notify the property manager with 30 days’ notice, giving them enough time to post the vacancy and prepare for your departure.