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Published: Sunday, June 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Real estate Q&A Three things you must do before signing a rental lease

Q: I am looking to rent my first apartment. How can I protect myself from getting into a bad situation?
A: Knowledge is power, so you need to do your research. Renting is a long-term commitment, both because of the legal agreement you sign to stay there and also because of the time and expense in finding a place to live. The last thing you want is to find yourself in a nightmare situation that could have been avoided. You need to look into three things.
•Make sure that the area and home is somewhere that you want to live. Visit the community several times on different days and times to check for problems with parking, noise and crime. What looks to be a great community at 11 a.m. on a Wednesday may have lots of noise and no parking on Saturday afternoons. Or the next-door neighbor has barking dogs that you didn't notice on the first visit.
Then you need to look into the condition of the property, checking to see that it is well-maintained, clean and cared for. Find out if the landlord provides regular pest control and how broken appliances and other issues are handled. The apartment will be in its best condition when the landlord is trying to rent it, and if things are not right then, they likely will be even worse later.
Finally, check into the landlord. With so much information freely available on the Internet, it's easy to find out from property records whether the person you are dealing with is actually the owner. Check court records to make sure the house is not in foreclosure or behind on its homeowner's association payments. Also, see if your landlord has evicted people in the past and ask why it happened to get a sense of his or her attitude toward tenants.
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar.

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