What to Consider Before Signing a Lease

Signing a lease on a rental home or apartment is a big commitment. Consider these tips before you take the leap.

  • Read the lease thoroughly before you sign. Not all leases are the same, so it's important to review every section of the contract each time you rent a new place. Review dates, dollar amounts, expectations, and key points — for example, whether or not subletting is allowed.
  • Be clear about what money you'll need upfront. Many landlords require a security deposit, which can be one month's rent or more. Also, if you work with a broker, you may need to pay a fee.
  • Understand any potential fines. The lease may spell out fines the landlord can charge you for damage, paying your rent late, or terminating the contract early.
  • Determine which utilities you're responsible for paying. Electricity, gas, water, garbage, and other bills vary depending on the landlord, so find out which ones you'll need to pay. Also, find out the providers available for each service — then research each to find the best cost.
  • Know how much notice you'll need to give before terminating the lease. The amount of time required varies state to state and can depend on the rental company or landlord. There may also be fees associated with early termination, so understand your obligation before signing the rental agreement.
  • Identify all associated costs. Before you sign a lease, make sure you know how much rent you can afford to pay.