The 7 Most Important Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease

Dawn M. Smith
Written by Dawn M. Smith
Updated January 10, 2022
A young woman holding a pen and signing paperwork
Photo: d3sign / Moment / Getty Images


  • Understanding the important lease terms will help you pick the right home.

  • You may be able to negotiate some lease terms, such as reducing the monthly rent.

  • Be sure to examine the lease’s pet policies if you have a furry friend.

  • Rental agreements sometimes have additional fees, so review your lease thoroughly to avoid surprise charges.

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“Can I get that in writing?” This is the most important question to ask when you’re considering a house or apartment lease. Once you sign the lease contract, you’re locked into the written terms, no verbal agreements. 

So, before you sign onto a rental agreement, ask your potential landlord these seven important questions (and have your lease reflect the answers) to enjoy your new home for years to come. 

1. What are the Major Lease Terms? 

Although the lease’s finer details are important, and you should read them thoroughly, focus on the major points first to ensure they meet your most important criteria. For example, if you need a three-year lease, a short-term apartment lease won’t help you. You should also ask:

  • How much is the monthly rent and the security deposit? 

  • What is the length of the lease?

  • What happens if I need to break the lease early?

  • When can I renew, extend, or terminate the lease?

  • How many roommates can I have?

  • Will you run a background check on all occupants?

2. How Much Is the Rent and How and When Do I Pay?

Paying rent each month sounds like a straightforward deal, but the details of the monthly cost, how to pay, and when to pay vary by rental property. These answers also depend on the type of rental property and whether you’re working with an individual homeowner or a rental management company. 

Ask these questions about rent terms before signing the lease agreement: 

  • Do I owe the first and last months’ rent before moving in?

  • If I don’t move in on the first of the month, is my rent prorated?

  • When do you charge a late fee for rental payments? How much is it?

  • How do I pay my rent each month? If there are multiple options, what’s your preferred payment method?

3. Can I Negotiate an Aspect of the Lease?  

If everything about your new house or apartment is perfect—except for one thing—it's worth talking with your landlord or property manager to negotiate that sticking point. You never know until you ask. Here are some negotiating points to consider:

  • Reducing the rent for existing damage (such as broken bathroom tiles or stained carpet)

  • Changing the start or end date of the lease

  • Adding updates, such as a fence for the yard

4. What Is the Pet Policy?

A dog on bed with open snout
Photo: miodrag ignjatovic / E+ / Getty Images

Even though you’ve found the ideal apartment, it won’t work if there’s a weight limit on dogs and you have a beloved Great Dane in tow. Ask your landlord or rental property manager about the specifics of the pet rules to avoid a last-minute pet policy snafu on move-in day. 

  • Are there any dog breed or size restrictions?

  • How many pets can l have?

  • Are cats allowed?

  • What kinds of animals are restricted? 

  • Is there a pet fee or monthly pet rent?

  • Do I need to provide a pet resume, vet records, or a reference from a previous landlord? 

5. What are My Maintenance Responsibilities?

There’s an expectation that house renters should perform regular home maintenance, but you could also be responsible for small tasks in an apartment like changing AC and furnace filters. Your lease might require you to:

  • Winterize sprinkler systems

  • Clean gutters

  • Cut grass

  • Rake leaves

  • Weed

  • Trim trees and hedges

  • Change refrigerator, AC, and furnace filters

  • Clean dryer vents

  • Change lightbulbs

Don’t forget to ask your landlord about how to submit maintenance requests if you need something fixed, including standard repairs like a broken dishwasher and emergency repairs like a burst pipe. 

6. What Kind of Updates or Personalizations Can I Make?

A house isn’t a home for some renters unless they personalize it inside and out. But before you pick a new color palette, ask about your decorating parameters. Some landlords are flexible (especially if you’re making an upgrade on your dime), but others prefer the status quo because it's less expensive to turnover the apartment later. 

Before you drill, paint, or dig, ask permission to:

  • Paint the walls and ceilings

  • Hang pictures, artwork, or wallpaper 

  • Change the window coverings and hardware

  • Swap light fixtures

  • Plant a garden or perennials 

7. Are There Additional Rental Fees or Policies?

Read the lease’s fine print to find out more about less-than-obvious rental fees and deposits. That’s where you’ll learn about potential fees or policies like:

  • Utility payments 

  • Property amenities, like a pool or community gym

  • Parking fees

  • Overnight guest and non-tenant policies 

  • Refundable and non-refundable security and pet deposits

  • Move out procedures, like professional house and carpeting cleaning

  • Sub-lessee terms

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