When renting, a lease is the contract between you as a renter and the landlord. It covers the conditions under which you are allowed to possess, occupy, and use the property and sets out the rules of your interactions with your landlord. Leases are often written in a kind of legalese and can be (intentionally) hard to understand.
Because your lease is pretty important, it's good practice to know what's in it. If you're getting ready to move into a new place, make sure to give your lease a thorough read before you sign it. While individual leases may vary, especially from landlord to landlord, in every lease there are things that should be in there and there are a number of things to look out for.
Basic Parts of a Lease
Property details. The lease should, at a minimum, include the names of the landlord and tenants, the address of the property, landlord contact info, and where, when, and how to pay rent (including any late fees). It should also be signed by all parties, both the landlord (or their representative agent) and each tenant on the lease. Other info that falls into this category are things like parking and amenities.
Rental terms. This includes the amount of rent to be paid (usually monthly) and the duration of the rental agreement - basically your move-in and move-out date. Most leases also include information on renewal as well, like if renewal is automatic or if you have to explicily tell your landlord you want to renew. If yours does not include any language about renewal, when moving into a new place, you should ask about it. If yours does include renewal information, check to see what it says about raising rent prices upon renewal so you won't be caught off guard.
Deposits, fees, and utilites. Basically all the other money-involved things. Security deposits are virtually inescapable, but do make sure to check out our page on security deposits for more information on the restrictions placed on landlords for what they can and can't do with them. A big thing here is to check and have a clear understanding of which, if any, utilities you are required to pay and which, if any, your landlord pays. If you are required to pay utilities, there should also be information about the when and how to get those set up.
Conditions. This is usually the longest part of the lease and is essentially rules the landlord is obligating you to follow as long as you're renting the space. This is also the part where any tricky or sneaky provisions might show up. There are a number of things that fall into this category, but here are some common elements:
- Rules about subleasing (which is when you would have somebody take over your place on the lease for a specific amount of time)
- Pets - sometimes they will even specify which types, sizes, or breeds of pets are allowed, and whether there is a pet deposit or a monthly pet fee
- Guest and visitor rules
- What is and isn't covered by maintenance
- Whether you can do stuff like put nails in the wall, paint, or do other cosmetic alterations
- Restrictions on what you can do, sometimes including smoking, parties, etc.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of everything that can possibly be on a lease. Make sure you've read and understood each part of it before signing, asking questions about specifics (and getting the answers in writing!), and doing a solid inspection before moving in. Landlords might also include stuff like a reference to "company policies" if they're a big management company, so get a copy of those too. Look out for where landlords refuse liability, what extra things they might try to charge you for, what specific things landlords will take responibility for, and what rights they reserve for themselves.