Movearoo’s Easy Guide to Leasing a House or Apartment

By Jess Hutton


Whether you are looking to lease a house or an apartment, it’s important to know what you’re agreeing to when you sign a residential lease. Because every lease has different requirements and penalties, knowing what to discuss with your landlord can keep you from encountering legal issues or financial repercussions down the road.

We’ve collected some of the most common questions around leasing and answered them in a way you should be able to remember when you sit down with your new landlord:

What is the difference between a rental agreement and a lease?

While a rental agreement typically renews month-to-month, a lease covers a longer period that can be anywhere from six months to a few years. A rental agreement automatically renews after the contract expires, but the landlord is able to change the contract terms each month (for instance, raising the rent), with proper written notice. A leasing agreement, on the other hand, guarantees the terms cannot be changed for the designated lease length.

Photo by Rental Realities/Flickr

Are there regular expenses beyond rent?

Talk to the landlord to ensure that all extra monthly or yearly fees are clearly outlined in your lease agreement. Some leases stipulate additional costs for late rent payment or bounced checks. Others may require fees for trash services or entertainment packages.

Security deposits are another common cost covered in lease agreements. The maximum amount a landlord can charge for a security deposit is often capped by state laws, but the exact regulations will depend on the rental in question. Make sure you clearly understand all of the landlord’s expectations before you commit. It may be a good idea to take pictures of the property before you move in and out to document the condition of the rental property and avoid possibly paying part of your security deposit on pre-existing damages.

How long does the lease last?

You may be planning to move out of town or into another property in a year, but if your lease duration is two years, you could end up paying high penalty fees for breaking the lease. Talk to your landlord if you have concerns about the lease duration, as they may be willing to work with you on the length of the lease. Some landlords will even lower the monthly rate if you sign a lease for a longer period.

Are there restrictions on interior or exterior modifications under a lease?

Many landlords set restrictions on the changes you can make in the rental space. For instance, they might allow for repainting under the condition that they approve the colors or you agree to change the paint back before you move out. Essentially, your redesigning freedom will come down to what your landlord will allow.

You should also find out what the landlord expects in terms of exterior upkeep. Your lease may have provisions about lawn maintenance or snow shoveling. Asking about both maintenance and redecorating restrictions will help you and your landlord stay on the same page and avoid any arguments while you live in the property.

What responsibilities will the landlord cover?

Landlords are usually required to provide general maintenance and service oversight for the property, but the specific parameters should be detailed in your lease. Remember, even after you’ve agreed to a lease, any communication about property-related responsibilities should be recorded in writing in case a problem arises. Clear documentation that you’ve upheld your end of the lease agreement will offer good leverage when it comes to convincing your landlord to uphold their end.

What is the pet policy for leases?

If you have animals, ask about the pet policy before signing a lease. Are dogs or cats allowed? If so, are there any breed or size restrictions you should know about? A lot of property owners are hesitant to rent to people with certain breeds, even if they pose no threats.

In addition to whether or not pets are allowed to live on the property, you need to ask the landlord if there are extra fees for keeping pets. There could be a pet security deposit on top of your regular security deposit, or the landlord may ask for a monthly pet fee to be paid with rent.

Photo by Scott Hingst/Flickr

What is a co-signer and is it necessary to have one?

A co-signer is a form of backup for the landlord. If you were to bail on your lease or be unable to pay the monthly costs, the responsibility would fall to your co-signer to pay the bills. Typically, a co-signer does not live in the house or apartment with the lessee, which further increases the landlord’s financial safety.

Landlords perform credit and background checks on most residents before approving lease agreements. If you have a history of poor credit or your income is not deemed high enough to pay the rent, you may need a co-signer to act as a guarantor. This is to ensure that if you cannot afford the rent, someone else will be liable for the payment.

What happens if I need to move early?

Sometimes renters need to break a lease because they are moved out of town by their company or they decide to buy a home. However, when you sign a lease, you are signing a legal contract that says you will pay each month until the agreed-upon time period is up — it’s an official obligation.

Talk to your landlord about the penalties you could face if you break your lease early. Some landlords will allow you to break the lease if you find them a replacement renter, but if a landlord refuses, you are responsible for the penalty fees.

Subleasing your home — contracting another tenant to fulfill the remainder of your lease — is another option, but again you’ll need to check out whether state laws and lease terms allow it.

Are roommates allowed?

When under a leasing agreement, you must get the landlord’s approval before you can bring in a roommate. The landlord may require the roommate to go through credit and background checks or ask for an increased monthly rent. At the end of the day, the landlord will have the final say, as another person living in the residence means more wear and tear on their property.

Signing a lease is a big decision that gives you a secure place to live for a longer period of time, and someone to help with the responsibilities of maintaining a property. If you are looking to lease a home, consider each of these questions carefully to avoid any potential issues with your future lease agreement or landlord.

Featured photo by Nick Bastian/Flickr