This document is a manual that describes, in plain language, the basic points a tenant
should know before signing an apartment lease. The manual covers many common
lease terms and concepts, including the lease as a contract, security deposits,
procedures for a property walk-through and utilities. Tenants are further encouraged to
acquaint themselves with applicable state consumer protection agencies, who often
further detail tenant rights within their particular jurisdiction.
APARTMENT LEASING MANUAL
Leases Are Contracts
A lease, which is typically written, is a contract between you and your landlord, and spells out
the relationship, obligations and rights of both the tenant and landlord. Some states may permit
the enforcement of an oral lease, while others may consider such an arrangement a month-to-
month tenancy. The landlord usually drafts the lease terms, and therefore, the language typically
favors the landlord. A tenant may request that terms of a lease be modified or deleted during the
negotiation phase, prior to signing the proposed lease. Generally, nothing said or agreed upon
orally will change any part of the written lease unless it is in writing and signed by both parties.
If you do not agree to the entire written lease document, do not sign it. Your signature will bind
you to fulfill the terms of the agreement exactly as it is written and/or pay significant financial
penalties, and you should always receive a copy of the fully signed lease. Landlords and tenants
should be equally prepared to exercise their rights under contracts and through the courts if
A lease should set forth the main terms of agreement between the parties, including the identity
of the property, parties, length of lease, rent and security deposit to be collected and when it is
due, as well as any applicable rules and regulations. Identification should include the street
address and apartment number. Tenants should inspect the specific apartment they are renting
before they sign a lease, and make note of any damages or defects in the lease. If, when you are
ready to move in, the apartment you leased is not ready for occupancy, you may agree to take a
different unit. However, you are not obligated to accept any apartment other than the one
identified in the lease. When you move in, if the apartment is damaged or defective in any way
other than that noted in the lease, take pictures or videos of the damages and defects. You should
also fill out a thorough inspection report for the landlord with a list of repairs and cleaning that
need to be done, along with an agreement as to when it will be repaired. Remind the landlord
regularly in writing of the work remaining to be completed until the apartment is fully ready for
occupancy. Although most landlords take pride in the appearance and standards of their
apartments, some make a habit of procrastinating and then cleaning or fixing just enough,
knowing that many tenants eventually give up on a leaking toilet, dirty refrigerator, or torn
Length of the Lease
A lease should indicate the starting date and ending date of occupancy. A standard lease term is
12 months, although in some instances, a lease may be open-ended or month to month.
Many leases are preprinted forms on which a landlord fills in the blanks and then both parties
sign. Any changes should be hand-written in ink, or typed if possible. An addendum may also
be added to include any revised terms, or to set forth any damages to the unit being rented.
Rules and Regulations
Watch for rules and regulations that may be included in the lease or attached as an additional
document. They may include regulations about noise, cleaning requirements and standards,
garbage storage and disposal, modifications to the apartment, security issues, smoke detectors,
parties, guests, pets, parking, hallways, lights, landlord access to inspect or show the apartment
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to prospective tenants, and other lifestyle issues. Rules and regulations often are problems
between landlords and tenants if they are not understood, agreed to, and followed. Tenants can
be evicted for breaching leases by not following the rules. Rules and regulations can be changed,
added, or amended by a landlord without tenant approval if the lease allows it.
Security deposits are customary, and are usually equal to one or two months of rent. Tenants
should confirm whether or not applicable state law permits the collection of a security deposit
greater than one months’ rent, if that is requested. Many leases specify that a deposit cannot be
used as the last month of rent. Some leases say that if a landlord uses some or all of the security
deposit during the term of the lease, the tenant must pay to bring the deposit up to the lease-
specified amount. In many states, a landlord must place the security deposit in an escrow
account in a bank for the term of the lease. The tenant does not necessarily receive any interest
payments from the security deposit, although this may be regulated by applicable state law.
Payment of Rent
Payment of rent, also called consideration, is specified in the lease. Payment information
includes the monthly rent amount, the total amount of the rent to be paid over the term of the
lease (usually 12 times the monthly rent), when (date due) and where (office address) the rent is
to be paid, how the rent is to be paid, (mail, in person, check, money order, etc.), and a late date
after which payment is not on time and violates the lease terms. The terms of some leases may
assess a penalty if rent is late (e.g., rent is $500 a month but if paid after the fifth of the month a
penalty of $50 will be charged; therefore, the rent due will be $550). Some leases now also
include penalties for payments which are returned due to insufficient funds and/or for which stop
payment orders are issued, and in such instances, landlord may require that future rent be paid in
cash or other form.
Utilities and Appliances
Utilities and appliances also are described in leases, and the details should be read carefully.
Who pays which utilities should be specifically indicated. If a tenant is responsible for certain
utilities, he or she must contract directly with utility companies. Utilities provided by the
landlord should be listed, and may be regulated by applicable state law. Utilities include
electricity, water, and sewage and may include gas and garbage/recycling removal. Be cautious
about agreeing to pay a landlord for utility services based on the landlord's contract with utility
companies or for which there is no separate meter for the apartment. Utility companies provide
estimates of service charges for tenants if requested and perform usage audits for customers who
wish to verify charges. Any appliances included should be referenced in the lease. The landlord
may also specify in the lease whether or not same will be provided if the appliance currently in
the unit should become broken during the lease term. If an appliance is located within the unit,
but is not listed on the lease, it is likely it would not be replaced if it broke during the term of the
Use and Occupancy
Many leases include a use and occupancy section that indicates that the use of the apartment is
limited to residential use and specifies the number of people who may live there. This means it
cannot be used for business or to house more people than stated in the lease. Children in a
family are counted, as are unrelated adults. Guests also may be restricted by language in this
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section or in rules and regulations. The allowance of overnight guests or visitors, the maximum
number of nights they can stay, and whether they can be given a key to the apartment are
common limits on tenant use of an apartment.
Sublets and Assignments
Sublets and assignments will permit, prohibit, or define a landlord's policy on subletting or
assigning a lease to another person. If it is not prohibited by the lease, subletting may be
permitted by state law.
Acceleration of Rent
A landlord may have the option of an acceleration of rent if a tenant fails to pay rent on time or
breaches or violates other lease terms. This means that a landlord can demand that the entire
amount of the lease consideration be paid within some specified time period. This usually is a
last resort for a landlord who is not receiving rent in regular, timely, or complete payments,
although it can be sought for other violations of a lease. Unless a tenant agrees and pays the
amount specified in the lease on time, the landlord may go to court seeking a judgment ordering
the payment. A clause in the lease usually specifies the availability of this option for the
landlord. This option is not always enforceable depending on the circumstances.
Waiver of Notices
Some leases now include a waiver of notices. Normally, notice is given to a tenant prior to the
termination date of a lease. Waiving this notice has little impact on the tenant, who should be
aware of the end of the lease and the need to renew or move out. Tenants should be aware of any
penalties for failing to move out by the end date of a lease. The lease may also contain a waiver
of notice to pay outstanding rental payments or leave a property. Where permitted by applicable
state law, waiving the right of notice will deprive the tenant of the opportunities to correct the
problem, and the landlord will file legal action immediately.
Right of Entry
Many landlords specify a right of entry in the lease. Usually this means that a landlord can enter
an apartment without notice and whether or not a tenant is present to fix something that the
tenant has requested, to respond to an emergency, or to show the apartment to prospective
tenants or purchasers. Any limits on the time of day, purpose, or notice will be specified here.
Leases that allow landlord access for any reason and at any time of the day or night should be
questioned. Failure to allow a landlord access could be grounds for the landlord to take legal
action if the lease specifies access. Tenants are entitled to the right of quiet possession, but
elements of that right can be abridged by lease.
Renewal is the term for extending the current lease agreement for another period of time.
Usually, a one-year lease renews for another year and a six-month lease for another six months,
although some leases renew on a month-to-month basis after the initial lease term. Many leases
will specify a time frame in which the tenant must renew prior to the termination of the current
lease term. This provides the landlord sufficient time to advertise the vacant unit, if the tenant
does not renew.
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