Things You Should Know Before You Sign an Apartment Lease

Things You Should Know Before You Sign an Apartment Lease

If you are contemplating a move to a new apartment, be sure you know your rights and obligations before you sign a


Whether you live in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, or Peoria, Illinois, your perfect apartment is the one in the right neighborhood, near the right highways or train or bus lines for commuting, at the right rate, in a secure building.

There are probably other apartment features you have on your list. But, no matter what you are looking for in the way of housing, the right apartment nearly always comes with a lease. When you think youve found the right apartment, you should protect yourself by reviewing the lease before you sign it and asking a few questions of your new landlord.

If your landlord does NOT ask you to sign an apartment lease, you should ask why. Moving into an apartment without a lease can cause problems, because your rights and obligations are not defined and, in some states, your landlord can throw you out of your apartment without notice.

If you have an apartment lease in hand and you are ready to sign, you should review these items before you put your signature on the dotted line.

Each state has different laws regarding apartment rentals and obligations. You can search online or call your State offices to find out more information about landlord and tenant rights and obligations for apartment rentals.

Dont sign up for more than your State requires if you can help it. If the landlord is using his own apartment lease form instead of a standard form, read it carefully and dont hesitate to ask for changes if you feel the terms are too restrictive.

While you may not be able to get changes for stipulations like pets, or things that impact fire insurance or fire laws, there are some things you CAN negotiate.

Here are a few other things to check on that dream apartment. Some of them may be in the lease and some may be services that are not outlined in the apartment lease you will sign. In any case, you should know about these lease conditions upfront. If the terms and conditions of your apartment lease are not to your liking and there are serious concerns, you may have to rethink your dream apartment and keep looking.

Security – How much security, if any, does your landlord provide? If there is a parking garage, is there security for that garage, 24 hours a day?

Elevators – If your apartment has an elevator system, how often is it inspected? If there are problems with the elevator, is there a number YOU and the other tenants can call or should you call the super for the building? Is there a guaranteed turnaround time for a service visit or might you be walking up six flights of stairs for a week or more?

Apartment Super – If your apartment building has a super, is he/she resident in the building or does the super live offsite? What days of the week and hours does he/she work, and how do you reach him/her? What services does he provide and what services are subcontracted to others, e.g. plumbing, electrical, security systems, etc.

Pets – Are you allowed to have pets in your building? If so, what kind? What happens if there are complaints about you or some other tenant regarding a barking dog, odors, etc.

Garbage and Incineration – What services and systems does your landlord provide for garbage or incineration? Are there garbage receptacle areas in the building, or do you throw your garbage down into an incinerator? What type of clean-up and sanitation is done on a regular basis to ensure that the garbage does not attract rats or vermin?

Apartment Security Deposit – Typically, a landlord will ask for payment upfront, equal to one or more months of rent to hold for any repairs he may have to make if you leave the apartment in disarray at the end of your lease. If you must make a security deposit, find out whether your landlord is holding this in escrow in accordance with law, and when you can expect to get it back when you are ready to move.

Apartment Vacancy and Sublease – Can you sublet your apartment if you have to move out of your apartment for any reason? What happens if you vacate the apartment and continue to pay rent? Can you move back in or will the landlord seize the apartment and cancel the lease with penalties? 

Changes to the Apartment – Can you hang pictures on the walls, or change fixtures in your apartment?

You should also consider any specific requirements YOU have and add those to the list of questions you want to ask your
landlord. For example, do you have a baby grand piano you need to move into the apartment? If so, can you take out a
window to hoist the piano in from the street, through the window frame? Do you raise ocelots? If so, find out if you can do that in your new apartment before you sign the lease.

Be sure you ask all of these questions and review the apartment lease before you make a decision on an apartment.

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