7 Things to Know Before Signing a Lease

before signing a lease

The prospect of all that freedom, the opportunity to decorate your own place—there’s no doubt that moving into your first apartment is exciting.

That said, finding a new place to call home can be a daunting experience. While selling points like how much an apartment costs and where it’s located are important, there’s more to consider than that. Here are the seven things every renter should know before signing a lease.

1. Know what you’re paying for. There’s more to renting than just sending a check to your landlord once a month. Many landlords require a renter to pay a security deposit of one (or even two) month’s rent. Others also impose an application fee for background and/or credit checks.

Depending on where you’re renting, you may be responsible for certain utilities. If your complex has perks like an on-site gym and laundry, you may also be required to pay an amenities fee. In addition to knowing what you’re paying for, find out what you’re expected to do. For instance, you may be responsible for some landscaping or snow removal.

2. Find out what the parking situation is and what the neighborhood is like. When renting, parking options range from designated parking lots to street parking. If you’re concerned about Bessy the Buick (because you’re a baller who named your car) getting sideswiped, definitely keep this in mind. No car? Then make sure to consider whether your potential new place is located close to bus or train lines.

The neighborhood you live in is also a big consideration. Will you be comfortable walking by yourself to get places? Are you truly worried about Bessy getting messed with? A quick Google search and chats with friends living in the area can help you get a handle on the area.

3. Document the condition of the apartment. It’s always a good idea to view the apartment beforehand if possible. When you do a walkthrough, note any damage (like a hole in the wall) and take photos as proof. Otherwise, you could be waving goodbye to your security deposit at the end of your lease.

A walkthrough is also a good time to ask about whether the apartment has lead paint or any other concerns (like radon). While you’re on the topic, find out whether the water heater is new or not—it could affect the cost of your monthly water bill.

4. Find out if the apartment is pet friendly. People love pets – but many landlords don’t. That’s because pets can cause damage that landlords just don’t want to deal with. Where pets are permitted, renters are often required to pay a non-refundable pet deposit and an additional fee each month for the pleasure of Miss Kitty’s company.

If a landlord has zero tolerance for pets, think twice before sneaking one in. You and your pet could be looking for a new apartment very soon if you do!

5. Know the length of your lease. Lease periods are generally one year and spelled out in the contract. However, always double check—especially if you and your potential landlord agree on a different time length.

Lease lengths can vary from as little as a month to two years. Known as a nonstandard lease, shorter leases can be convenient for people who are new to the area or on a temporary work assignment. The only downside is that they’re typically more expensive –so if you’re planning to stay in the area, you might want to look for a longer lease.

Lastly, clarify whether your lease auto-renews or if you have to notify your landlord of your intent to renew.

6. Get all verbal agreements in writing. It’s important to document any variations from the standard agreement. This holds your landlord (and you) accountable. Remember when we said to document any damage in the apartment? Make sure that is spelled out in the contract as well.

7. Find out if you can sub-lease. Sub-leasing can be very helpful in situations where you’ll be away, but still have rent to pay. Check with your landlord first—if he or she gives you get the green light, look for someone responsible, like a friend or family member, to lease your place.

One caveat: Many renters think they’re no longer held responsible once they sub-lease – but that’s usually not the case. The original renter is almost always held responsible if a sub-leaser doesn’t pay rent or causes damage.

Keeping these seven things in mind before you sign on the dotted line will help you have a hassle-free renting experience. (For even more helpful tips, check out our renter's how-to guide.) Another way to protect your peace of mind is to get renters insurance. When you bundle renters with another policy, like auto insurance, it can often pay for itself. Contact a professional like an Erie Insurance Agent to learn more and get a free quote today.

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