TenantsTips / USA / What to look for in a Rental Lease

What to look for in a Rental Lease

When you sign a lease to move into a new apartment or house, you might be tempted to simply read a few sections, if any at all. However, don’t just skim that lease! Take a look at several key areas so that you are well aware of your rights and can safeguard them if and when the time comes to do so.

Don’t forget: a lease is a legally binding document, so if anyone takes legal action during the duration of the lease or in response to something that occurred during the lease’s coverage dates, what you sign will be unalterable. That’s why you should be very familiar with the exact terms in the lease.

Here are several items to look for in your lease:


  • Clauses that allow the landlord to change the terms of the lease after it is signed. This can open a door to changes that you might not be agreeable to. Check particularly what the lease says about increases to the monthly rental amount. Many cities and states have laws protecting you in this matter.
  • The requirements and responsibilities of the tenant. Check in particular to see who is responsible for routine repairs, lawn maintenance, special cleaning, etc. Many landlord-tenant disputes erupt when the tenant assumes that the landlord will pay for a repair that the landlord would call “routine” and is the tenant’s responsibility in the lease.
  • Important dates about when the rent is due, when the rent is considered late, when garbage is picked up, etc. What’s the big deal about garbage pick-up? Well, if you put your containers out on the wrong day consistently, you can be cited by the local HOA. You also might fail to have your garbage picked up for an extended amount of time, which means you will need to make a run to the dump!
  • Notes about extra fees such as tariffs for parking spaces, storage, garbage collection and pets. Some of these extra charges can get hefty. You need to see just how much the landlord wants additionally for you to have your housebroken dog, which could be a “cleaning charge” that climbs into three digits. Likewise, that parking space below the apartment building might add up to a huge addition to your monthly rent. That could be a deal-breaker for you. Likewise for storage if you can’t fit all of your possessions into your studio unit.
  • Provisions about utility hook-ups and charges: Who’s going to arrange for starting service, you or the landlord? Who is responsible for the deposits that are often required? Will the landlord pay for the water and you pay for everything else? This should be clearly spelled out in the lease.


This is an important document.

Don’t hesitate to ask questions or request clarification if there are any articles in the lease that require further explanation.

You are in no hurry to sign this lease! Take your time and comb through the provisions.

If you have a doubt about something, you can often do a quick Web search and see if the lease stacks up with local law, even city law.

You would be surprised at the extra tenants’ rights that many cities spell out, including rent control laws that could benefit you.

Also, if you have questions about how tenant law varies in your state, look up the state-by-state directory on the HUD website. Your city’s website should also have information on special provisions guarding tenant rights.


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