What is a Lease?
A lease is a binding, legal agreement that you enter into when renting from a property manager or owner.
While every lease may be different, there are numerous things to look for when deciding whether you should sign the lease. However, once you sign it, you are legally held responsible for fulfilling its terms. For example, the lease will include the names of the tenants, the amount of rent, security deposit, length of lease, and itemize what utilities are not included. Leases will also be specialized to things like the allowance of pets, smokers, painting, etc.
Check out this SAMPLE lease that will give you an idea as to what a lease might look like. Every lease varies and you can expect that yours will be different.
Things to Look For
Names of Tenants
Make sure that the names of every person who will be living in a rental is listed on the lease. If damages occur or rent is late, the property manager will pursue a settlement from only those listed on the lease. Therefore, it is in your best interest to ensure that all people who will be living in the apartment are recognized as residents.
Amount of Rent
The amount of rent that you will be paying each month must also be expressly written and agreed to in the lease. Especially when a property manager has verbally agreed to lower the rent advertised, make sure that the amount of rent listed on the lease is the amount that you are willing and able to pay. Also, make sure that you ask when and where the rent should be paid each month.
Amount of Security Deposit
Most property managers will also require you toi put down a security deposit to cover any expenses that they might occur during and following your tenancy. The amount of the security deposit is determined by the property manager and often ranges from a few hundred dollars to a full month's rent. Make sure to go over the differences between "damages" and "typical wear and tear" with your property manager and note it on the lease.
Length of Lease
The length of your lease may be anything from month-to-month, 3 months, 6 months, a year... whatever you and your landlord agree too. You will be responsible for fulfilling your lease for the entire duration of your lease terms, so you must be aware as to how long you are agreeing to pay rent to live in a particular property. If you feel that you may be interested in continuing your lease after the termination of the initial lease terms, ask whether your lease will be renewable or if there is an option to go month-to-month following its completion.
There are often some utilities that are included in your monthly rent. It is important to explicitly state which of these utilities will be covered and which you will be expected to pay each month.
If you have a pet or are interested in getting one in the future, make sure that pets are welcome in the property. Many rental properties also have size and breed restrictions for dogs, require you to carry pet insurance, or demand a "pet fee" on top of your monthly rent. (For more info, read Renting With Pets.)
Miscellaneous items may be anything from who will pay for the maintenance or any problems you may have with your unit, parking fees, gym memberships, smoking in the apartment, etc. Basically, be sure to go through each item of the lease and agree to it.
If you have any questions or concerns about an item, make sure you voice them to the property manager BEFORE you sign your name on the dotted line. All too frequently, people sign first and ask questions later. However, once you have signed the lease, it is a legally binding agreement that you will be held to.