A lease is a legal agreement between you and the owner of the apartment or house that you rent. Before you sign, it is important to clearly understand what is written in your lease, which will define your rights and responsibilities as well as the owner’s responsibilities during the time that you occupy the property. In the language of the lease, you are called the “tenant” and the person renting the property is called the “landlord.”
The lease will specify how long you can live in the apartment. Commonly, the length of a lease is one year. Your lease will specify the move-in date and the move-out date. On a one-year lease, you are required to pay rent for 12 months.
A lease will specify what amount of advance notice you must give the landlord if you intend to move or ask for a renewal. This is typically 30-90 days before the lease ends. If you move out sooner than the end date, you likely will have to pay a penalty, or possibly even pay for all the remaining months on the lease.
If you choose to renew your lease, your rent most likely will be raised for the time period covered by the new lease. The new amount will be determined by your landlord, or in very specific cases by local laws that may limit the amount your landlord can raise the rent.
The lease will specify the amount of rent for the term of the lease, the date it must be paid each month, and the amount of any late fees you will owe if the rent is not paid by a specified day in the month.
Security Deposit and First and Last Rent
A security deposit is money held in a bank by your landlord and returned when you move out if the property is left clean and with no damage. The lease will specify the amount of the required security deposit, which is often the amount of one month’s rent, sometimes more. When your lease ends and you move out, the landlord will determine whether any damage has been done during the time that you lived in the property and whether some or all your security deposit will be returned. It is recommended that you document the move-in condition of the apartment by taking photos. In addition to the security deposit, the lease often requires that you pay your first and last month’s rent before moving in.
Number of Occupants
Your lease will very likely limit the number of occupants who can live in the property. During the term of your lease, the number of people living in the property cannot exceed the number of residents stated in the lease agreement.
Your lease will specify which utilities like electricity, gas, and heating oil you are responsible for paying. In some leases, one or some of these expenses may be included in the rent. In others, you may be required to pay for all utilities. It is important to understand how your prospective rental property is heated and cooled, and the approximate amount you will pay for monthly utilities. The previous tenants, the landlord, or the utility company might be able to give you a general estimate of the average monthly cost of utilities at the property.
Sometimes, your lease may state that you are responsible for other costs and services, like garbage removal, water, snow removal, or yard maintenance. This is not common, but if required, these responsibilities will be written into the lease.
Written into the lease will be standard rules, as well as any specific rules the landlord may require that tenants follow. Common items on this list might include keeping common areas of the property clean, not making excessive noise, conserving energy, not keeping pets, not making any alterations to the apartment, not renting out to someone else (also called subletting), or installing a television antenna on the roof. It is important to read all the pages of the lease to understand what is allowed and what is not allowed in any rental property, and if you can agree to follow these rules during the time you would be living there.