6 Things You Should Know Before Signing an Apartment Lease

Barbara Bellesi Zito
Updated April 25, 2022
 A man signing an apartment lease
Photo: Giselleflissak / E+ / Getty Images

Get on the same page with your landlord before signing a lease agreement

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If you’ve found the apartment of your dreams and feel ready to make it your home, your next step is to sign a lease agreement. An apartment lease is an official contract between you and your landlord. It’s in both parties’ best interests to iron out any questions or concerns before you sign so that you don’t live unhappily ever after for the length of the lease. Here are five essential things to know before you sign on the dotted line.

1. The Status of Any Necessary Repairs

When you visit the apartment unit, it’s time to look around with a critical eye. Yes, it’s easy to get distracted by the shiny new kitchen appliances, the size of the bedroom closet, or the view of the city skyline. But you also need to look for any signs of damage or disrepair that you can address with the landlord before making any final moves. Ideally, you’ll want these issues resolved before you move in. 

More importantly, though, you want it on record that these conditions were present before you moved in to avoid getting blamed for them in the future. Your security deposit is at stake here, so don’t let cool features like a smart thermostat distract you from noticing a hole in the wall or a leaky faucet. 

2. Whether or Not Utilities Are Included 

Your rent covers the roof over your head. But it might also cover parking, access to the on-site fitness center, and some of your utilities such as water, electricity, gas, and internet. Or it might not. 

Do not make any assumptions as to what, if any, utility or community perks are included in the rental price. Even if the rental listing promotes included utilities, talk to the property owner or manager about what that entails and crunch the numbers on additional expenses for what isn’t included. If the rent price is at the top of your budget, it would be a very unpleasant surprise to learn that you’ll need to pay additional monthly utility fees.

3. How and When to Pay Rent

A couple reading the apartment contract
Photo: sturti / E+ / Getty Images

Aside from knowing what the rent includes, you’ll need to know when it’s due. Your payment schedule will likely be on the first page of the lease to easily see when your payment is due each month, including the penalty fees charged for late or returned payments.

But what’s the best way to remit your payment? Some landlords, especially those who own and operate large apartment buildings, use digital rental payment systems. But if you live in a smaller building, you might have to submit your rent via check or another method. If this is not stipulated in the lease, be sure to ask so that you are not penalized for paying rent in the wrong form. 

4. Rules About Changing or Customizing the Apartment

You’ll likely want to put your own stamp on your new place with your preferred furniture and decor, but consult your landlord before you make any permanent or semi-permanent changes to customize the space. This includes painting the walls, installing air conditioner units, adding window treatments, and even hanging photos and art on the wall. 

A good rule of thumb is that if it includes adapting the space in such a way that a considerable amount of work is needed to transform it back, it’s best to get approval from your landlord.

5. Protocol for Maintenance Requests

The heat isn’t working. The dishwasher won’t run. The toilet is overflowing. There are countless maintenance issues that warrant a call to your landlord, but depending on the number of tenants in your building, you might have to call the superintendent or the property manager for assistance instead. It’s a smart move to put that emergency contact in your phone right away so you know the right person to call when needed.

6. Move-In Dates

Your lease might start on the first of the month, but before hiring movers, ensure you’re permitted to move on that day. Some apartment buildings may have you schedule your move based on when other new tenants are coming into the building to avoid an elevator and loading zone traffic jam. Perhaps the building only allows moves to happen on certain days or during certain times to avoid hogging the elevator and inconveniencing the current tenants. Whatever the case, you’ll want to get your moving day approved before you show up with all of your belongings.

If you are not allowed to move in on the day your lease starts, inquire about getting a prorated refund for your rent until your actual move-in day.

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