What To Look For In A Lease

As a contract nerd, I find leases fascinating, but not many people do. I’ve met many people who just sign on the dotted line blindly or perhaps just briefly skim the first page. Don’t be this person! You are signing a portion of your life and a lot of money to this agreement; do yourself a favor and read it.

Pull up a chair, grab your sticky notes, and get reading!

1. Confirm your start and end date.

Most people assume their lease will be the standard 12 months, however, some landlords will adjust the term for various reasons. My current lease is only 11 months, due to scheduled repairs, but I only discovered this after receiving my lease.

2. Make sure all of your expected appliances are listed.

Somewhere in your lease the landlord should list the appliances that come with the apartment. If you are expecting a stove, refrigerator, etc., make sure it is listed. If during your pre-signing walk-through you noticed that something was not in working order, make sure the lease notes that it has to be repaired.

3. Double Check Your Utilities.

In a similar vein to utilities, make sure you confirm what utilities the landlord pays and which you pay.

4. Check for Tenant Guidelines. 

Tenant guidelines is something you will find in most complexes or anywhere you are surrounded by other tenants who could be affected by your actions. These guidelines can include stipulations like “keeping the quiet, peace of residency” or establish rules for use of communal property like gyms, pools, kitchens. While this isn’t something you can avoid, you should make sure you know what you’re signing into especially if you like to host parties.

5. Look for Rent Payment Method. 

In your lease your landlord should specify how they want to receive your rent, i.e. check, online portal, Venmo/PayPal (yes, my landlord uses Venmo). Additionally, familiarize yourself with the timeframe you have to pay your rent; it’s typically within the first 4 days of the month. If you do not pay within this time, you may incur fees, which should be specified in the lease.

6. Roommates/Subleases. 

Most rental companies want to know if you have roommates or subleases. In many cases, there will be rules restricting both roommates and subleases. If you know you are planning on renting a room out or living with someone else, even if they are not on your lease, talk to the management company ahead of time. Often if you sublet or take a roommate unbeknownst to them, you can be penalized.

Those are just a few things to keep your eye out for, but ultimately, it is as simple as to making sure you read your lease. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, you are paying them! If you are nervous about signing your first lease, have a family member or close friend look it over for you, as well.


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Marisa Rinchiuso is a Design+Production major at Carnegie Mellon with a passion for DIY, budgeting and event management. She's always on the search for a great deal and new projects. In her free time, she enjoys cooking, crafts and travel.

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