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Signing the Lease

You’ve tackled the fun, yet daunting, tasks of finding a roommate and picking a place. Job well done! Now comes the scary part—the lease.

Residential Lease Agreement

The lease is probably going to be a long document filled with legal jargon and formalities of “thou,” “doth,” and “shall.” Don’t let this fool you. Don’t be afraid to argue the terms of the lease within reason. Keep in mind some of the terms are there specifically for your safety, the safety of other tenants, and to protect the landlord and the property. Always have a lease. If you move into a home or apartment without a lease, you have no legal recourse if anything goes wrong.

Look for these items when reviewing the lease:

  • What are the late payment penalties?
  • What are the rights of the landlord to enter your property? Most leases require at least a 24-hour notice before entry.
  • How much notice is required to break the lease? Most complexes require at least a 30-day notice to end the lease. Check the laws in your state. Most complexes will waive the penalty for ending the lease early only for military personnel going into active duty.
  • How much is the security deposit, and what’s required to get that deposit back when you move out?

Remember you don’t have to make a decision that day. Feel free to take a copy of the lease home to review with parents or friends. If possible, talk to current or recent tenants to discuss their experiences with the landlord/property.

  • Review online websites and blogs to compile common tenant issues and complaints to address with the landlord or property manager before signing.
  • Complete move-in checklists and take pictures and video of the apartment to document pre-existing damages to the unit.
  • Keep a copy of the lease and checklists in a safe place.


Subletting is a separate rental agreement in which a new tenant rents a space from the original lease holder temporarily. For various reasons, such as illness, study abroad, or new job, a lease holder may wish to re-rent the place for a period of time. Sublease agreements can be drafted by a leasing agent, property owner, or attorney and are legally binding. Whether you are subletting your place or looking for a sublease, take precautions to ensure it is legal and safe. Many complexes do not permit subleases. Know before you sign your lease.


  • Make sure the complex and property manager are aware of the sublet and have it in writing. Discuss with the landlord your intentions and any fees or penalties.
  • Make sure you have a trustworthy tenant. As the permanent lease holder, you are responsible for rent payments and any damages to the apartment.
  • Get it in writing. Verbal agreements will not protect you if the deal falls through. Mandate the term of the sublease and who is responsible for utilities, monthly rent, and security deposit. You can make arrangements to have your tenant pay you or the landlord directly.

Note: If you’re not planning to return to the property, you may want to consider a lease transfer, instead of a sublet.


  • Make sure the property manager or landlord is aware you are subletting. If there’s an emergency with the apartment, you need to know whom to call. Also, if you’re locked out and the landlord doesn’t know who you are, he or she will not let you in.
  • Make sure the sublessor is trustworthy. Conduct move-in checklists and take video and pictures of any pre-existing damages.
  • Get it in writing. If you don’t have it in writing, you have no claim to the space. The sublessor could return at any moment, and you’d have nowhere to go. Clearly define the terms in the sublease.
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