Lease Signing Tips

Once you’ve found an apartment you love and been approved by the management company, your next step is to sign the lease.  Physically signing the lease, while not as “big” as closing on a house, feels HUGE!  The first two leases I signed made me nauseous.  Leases are looooooong.  There’s a bunch of legal jargon in there, and I used to feel very under-the-gun to “read” everything fast at the signing.  I put read in quotations because who the heck can read 10-50 pages with microscopic print in a matter of a few minutes?  My family would insert a Rebecca’s-a-slow-reader joke here, but I doubt they could read it that fast either!

TIP!Ask for a copy of the management company’s standard lease when you submit your rental application for an apartment.  If you’re renting from a single landlord, ask the landlord’s broker for a copy of their standard lease documentation.  This will give you time to truly read through it.  If you get approved, you’ll be ready to roll at lease signing.


There are a few key item’s you’ll want to check for in the lease.  These include:

  • Sublet policy: If you need to move, for work or for personal reasons, but you don’t want to break your lease (lease breaking is always something to avoid) you may choose to sublet.  Not all management companies allow subletting, though.  Not necessarily a deal-breaker item, but something to consider.
  • Shared lease/roommate policy: Sharing an apartment with a friend, partner, or even a stranger can be a great way to cut costs.  Again, though, not all management companies allow for this.  Your lease will outline what is and isn’t allowed, and may even ask you to list the other people who will be living with you (if they’re not signing the lease, too).
  • Pet policy: This item is usually mentioned in apartment listings.  There are pet-friendly buildings and non-pet-friendly buildings.  There are places that allow only cats or only dogs.  You may run into restrictions on the number of pets you can have or an overall weight limit on pets.  This will all be outlined in the lease.  I’ve had friends who have gotten around these rules, but it’s not a great idea.  If a nosey neighbor tells the management company you have a pet in a pet-free building, you may be asked to leave or to get rid of Fido.  Sads.
  • Painting/decor policies: In many apartments, tenants are allowed to paint the walls, so long as they paint them white again before moving out.  The fee for not returning the walls to original white can be up to $300.  Yikes!  However, some leases do not allow for tenants to paint at all.  Similarly, most leases require that if you make any holes in the wall (from hanging things or just damaging the walls) you must fix them before leaving.
  • Renovation policy: One of the joys of living in an apartment should be that you don’t need to fix every little thing yourself.  In fact, the management company or landlord must fix things like leaky pipes, broken appliances, cracking walls or ceilings, loose door hinges, etc.  The flip side of this is that most tenants are not allowed to make any renovations.  You usually can’t install a garbage disposal or take down a wall to give yourself a better floorplan.  And you should always check with the management company before putting up divider walls or refinishing cabinets.  They’ll often allow you to make upgrades, if you ask.  But you should get everything signed off on, in writing.

Again, the best idea is to read the entire lease and ask any questions you think of (bring a note pad to take notes as you read).  However, these are some big ticket items that are most likely to be issues in the average renter’s life.  Gotta love legalities!  Isn’t it fun being an adult?

Image:  shho for sxc.hu

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