How to Read a Lease

Empty lease agreement on the desk and key.
Empty lease agreement on the desk and key.

You just rented out your first apartment, yay! You are so excited until you are handed...the lease. Yikes, all those pages of rules and lines to place your signature. It feels super overwhelming. It’s like being forced to read the terms and conditions! Luckily, this guide is here to help you navigate reading a lease. 

Investopedia has some great information on what to look for when reading a lease. Here are some of the key points summarized for you to remember:

Read out the lease very carefully

This is arguably the most important thing to remember. Don’t treat this like the terms and conditions on your phone. A lease is a legally binding contract, which can lead to consequences if you violate the terms of. 

A lot of tenants will not read the lease carefully and they will unknowingly violate a lot of the rules created by the landlords. This may feel like a trap, but we can navigate our way around this. 

Some words to look out for in your lease are subletting, credit cards/credit history, security deposits, utilities, liability and rent. 

When reading through your lease, try to answer these questions:


Beyond just your rent, which utilities are you responsible for paying? Do you have to pay for electricity, water, trash or internet? It is important to know what all you are responsible to pay for on a monthly basis so that you can make sure you’re budgeting correctly. 

Security Deposit

How much will the security deposit be, and when will you get it back? What would cause you to not get your deposit back? Certain damages that you cause to the apartment might result in you not getting your deposit back. You definitely want to get this money back, so read up on the rules for what you need to do to ensure you do.


What are the fees you could be charged if you break rules? Are pets allowed, and what is the fee for having them? What are the parking rules, and will you be charged a fee if your friends park in an unauthorized area? There are many fees that you could end up being charged if you don’t know the rules of your apartment. Every property is different and has varying rules, so make sure you know what exactly they are for any new place you move into. 

Pet Policy

If you’re planning to bring your furry friend along, make sure the property you’re moving to allows them. Many properties will require you to pay a pet deposit and an extra monthly fee on top of your rent. Additionally, some places also have breed restrictions, so make sure the property is compatible with your pet(s). 

General Rules

Most leases will include rules that you must abide by, such as designated quiet hours, smoking policy, guest policy and more. Acquaint yourself with these rules to ensure you don’t accidentally break any. 


If you’re a first-time renter, it is likely that you might need a cosigner. It is important to read up on the credit requirements and look into finding someone who would agree to cosign for you. Remember, if you have a cosigner, they can be held financially responsible for any missed rent payments or damages that you fail to pay for. Make sure that you are being responsible in making your payments.

Early Termination

Make sure you know the rules regarding whether you can get out of your lease early or not. Very often, you are not allowed to break your lease and will still be held responsible for making rent payments through the duration of your lease term. Some properties allow you to end your lease if you can find someone else to take over for you. However, not all properties have the same policy, so make sure you know what options you have in the case that you feel the need to terminate your lease early.

Figure out who is responsible for what

The lease will lay out what is and isn’t permissible. For instance, maybe the landlord will permit you to use sticky tack to hang up your posters but won’t permit you to use tape. There could be rules about having guests over, if you have to mow the lawn or if you’re liable for damages you didn’t cause. 

Liable. It’s an odd word but you will see this, or liability, a lot. If you are liable for something, it means you have to take full responsibility for what damages or harm you may have caused. There might be some damages that you didn’t do but you will still have to be financially responsible for. For instance, some apartment complexes find its tenants liable for natural disaster damages.  

Furthermore, you will want to find out how maintenance works. Many properties offer on-site maintenance that covers any problems you encounter. Your lease should tell you which repairs your landlord is responsible for and which things you could be held responsible for. According to Investopedia, “In some rental arrangements, the landlord is responsible for taking care of all repairs and maintenance—whether it’s a leaky faucet or a broken air conditioner. In other situations, the landlord might repair or replace only major appliances but leave the tenant responsible for everything else.” 

It’s important to keep these small details in mind before signing into a rental agreement. 

Final Thoughts

There might be some things you will find in the lease that seem like overkill. However, the landlords just want you to be safe and have a good time while you stay at the apartment. Make sure to ask your landlord any questions that you have before signing the lease. Additionally, Investopedia adds, “Once you and your landlord have signed the lease, it’s a very good idea to save a copy. This document can become important if any disagreements arise regarding the property or anything related to your tenancy.”

Hopefully, these few steps have been useful for you as you become a new apartment tenant. For more tips and ideas, click on the link here.

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