A lease is an agreement that outlines the obligations of the owner and the tenants of a house or apartment. It is a legally binding document that courts will generally uphold in legal proceedings, so it is important for you to know the exact terms of the lease agreement before you sign it. Before agreeing to lease a home to you, a landlord may review your credit report, so you may want to get a copy before you start your apartment search. Some things to look for in a lease:

  • Clauses that allow the landlord to change the terms of the lease after it is signed
  • Requirements/responsibilities of the tenants to do routine repairs such as lawn maintenance, cleaning or notification of repairs
  • Restrictions that would prevent you from living normally or comfortably in the home
  • Term of the lease and any important dates such as when the rent is due, or garbage pick up days
  • Extra fees for parking spaces or storage, garbage collection, and pets
  • Information regarding utility providers, how to arrange for service and whether you or the landlord is responsible for those bills.

Read the lease carefully and discuss anything you don’t understand or issues you might have. All landlord responsibilities should be clearly stated. Always get a copy of the signed lease to keep in your records. Any clause or terms in the agreement affects ALL parties who sign.

Tenants who lease or rent property are protected against discrimination by The Fair Housing Act. If you think your rights have been violated, you may write a letter or telephone the HUD office nearest you. You have one year after the alleged violation to file a complaint with HUD, but you should file as soon as possible.

Each state has its own tenant rights, laws and protections. Contact HUD for a state-by-state directory. You can also find public housing that is available from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency offers several housing assistance programs for tenants and landlords as well as information of displaced residents.

Ten Tips for Renters

  • The best way to win over a prospective landlord is to be prepared by bringing a completed rental application; written references from previous landlords, employers, friends and colleagues; and a current copy of your credit report with you.
  • Carefully review all the important conditions of the lease before you sign.
  • To avoid disputes or misunderstandings with your landlord, get everything in writing.
  • Know your rights to live in a habitable rental unit-and don’t give them up.
  • Keep communication open with your landlord.
  • Ask about your privacy rights before you sign the lease.
  • Purchase renter’s insurance to cover your valuables.
  • Make sure the security deposit refund procedures are spelled out in your lease or rental agreement.
  • Learn whether your building and neighborhood are safe, and what you can expect your landlord to do about it if they aren’t.
  • Know when to fight an eviction notice and when to move. Unless you have the law and provable facts on your side, fighting an eviction notice is usually shortsighted.