How to Read a Lease

Reading a lease can be overwhelming whether you’re a first-time or experienced renter. While signing your name and moving in as soon as possible can be tempting, it is important to remember that a lease is a legal contract between you and your landlord. You must read the lease carefully before you sign! It is crucial for you to understand what you are committing to and signing. As a general rule, ask for and file copies of everything that you sign.

When reading a lease, there are several important areas to identify and make sure you understand your responsibilities as the tenant and the responsibilities of the landlord. Here’s what we recommend to look for before signing your name to any lease agreement.

Basic Property Information
Rental Costs
Utility Policies
Property Rules
Pet Policy
Exit Process

Basic Property Information

The lease should always include the basic information and facts about the rental property, but there are a few key details to keep an eye out for: the physical address, landlord’s name and contact information, the specific dates of the rental period, lease renewal options, the date the lease was signed, and any appliances that come with the unit and whether the property is furnished should also be included.

Rental Costs

Your chief rental cost as a tenant will be your monthly rental payment. It is important to understand the exact amount, when it is due each month, how you are supposed to pay, if any grace period is allowed, and the amount of the late fee. However, there are other costs to pay attention to within the lease agreement, including specific details about any deposits you may have to make and the conditions for getting your deposit returned.

Utility Policies

Do not overlook the details of the utility policies outlined in the lease agreement. This is a monthly expense that could end up costing you a lot of money and trouble. Read this portion of the lease carefully. Make sure you find out if any utilities are included in the monthly rental payment, what utility expenses you are expected to cover, and if any of the utility expenses are paid for by the landlord. These specifics should be addressed in the lease. Similarly, ensure the lease identifies the specific responsibilities of you and your landlord regarding emergency repairs and maintenance issues. Always ask what the average costs of utilities (gas, electric, water, cable, internet, etc.) are or have been historically.

Property Rules

The lease should also define the appropriate and acceptable use of the rental property, including policies that address things like:

  • Parking and storage options
  • Smoking, including marijuana
  • When the landlord and/or maintenance workers are allowed access
  • Acceptable alterations to the property
  • Insurance options and requirements
  • Quiet hours, maximum occupancy, and overnight guests
  • Grounds for and process of eviction

It is important that you fully understand the acceptable behavior of the tenant whilst residing in the property so that you are not in violation of any property rules.

Pet Policy

Ask if pets are even allowed in the rental property and if there are any restrictions on size, species, or breed. If the landlord does not allow pets and you bring a pet with you into your rental property, that can generally be grounds for eviction. The lease should also outline whether you have to pay (1) a pet deposit that may be returned on physical move-out, (2) a pet fee that is used for cleaning the rental unit after you and your pet move out, and/or (3) a monthly or annual pet rent.

Exit Process

Read your lease. It should identify your specific responsibilities before you move out of the rental property. For example, are you required to provide notice before a certain time period? Do you need to professionally clean the carpets? Be sure that these are sufficiently outlined and that you understand them completely, including the differences between moving out at the end of your lease or, moving out early, before your lease expires.