Signing A Rental Lease Agreement

Pay attention to the details!

Once you've found an apartment or home that's right for you, the next step before moving in will be signing a lease. Always read your lease agreement thoroughly! Don't worry that you're keeping someone waiting as you read every word. And be sure to pay attention to the following items before you sign on the dotted line:

  • Lease length and rent increases. It's important to know when your lease agreement starts and ends and if there are special conditions for moving in and out, such as restrictions on elevator use and moving truck parking. Also, be sure to find out what happens when the lease end date arrives. If the lease can be extended, you'll need to know for how long and whether or not rent increases will take effect. Take note of how much notice is required if you should need to break the lease.
  • Deposits. Most leases include up-front security deposits, often equaling at least one month's rent. Some also require additional deposits for move-ins, pets, damage and other items, so be prepared for what you'll be expected to pay up front.
  • Rent payments and late fees. You'll need to know where to send rent payments and on what day of the month they're due. Many agreements include a grace period (often five days) during which rent payments can be made after the deadline without being late. You may also want to check if payments can be made on-line. Make sure you know what the late fee is ahead of time so that you're prepared to cover the cost if you're late on a payment.
  • Property management and repairs. Some buildings have property managers or maintenance representatives who should be contacted when repairs are needed, while in other units the tenant is expected to locate and hire service people. Landlords usually cover the cost of replacing major appliances and for parts and service, but in some units the tenant is responsible for those costs. Take note of whether or not there is a service expectation for repairs—will they fix within 24 hours or 7 days, or what? What are the hours for the maintenance people? Is there a fee for emergency service? What about lockouts?
  • Utilities. Find out whether or not the cost of utilities such as gas, electricity and water are included in the rent or if you're expected to cover those costs. Also, check on whether or not cable TV is included in the rent.
  • Subletting terms. In the event that you or a roommate need to leave the unit before the lease's end date, it's important to know whether or not the agreement allows you to sublet the space to a new renter.
  • Property examination. Make sure you've done a thorough examination of the apartment or house prior to signing. Ensure that all appliances, faucets, plumbing and electrical outlets are in working order and that doors and windows open, close and lock.  Also, look for any existing damage and be sure to document any damage in the rental agreement or damage assessment form. This will help if there are any disputes about damage later on.
  • Save a copy. After signing the lease, make sure you keep a copy on file. Try to re-read the lease periodically so that you remain familiar with all of the terms in the agreement.

Are you asking yourself if you need renters insurance? Well, what's the worst that could happen? Better safe than sorry.