8 Questions to Ask Before Signing a Lease Agreement

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Finding that perfect apartment is cause for celebration, and one of the next steps to make it a renter’s new home is to sign the lease agreement. But before renters sign on the dotted line and enter into a rental agreement, there are some important things they need to know and understand about this legally binding contract.

Here are 8 questions you should ask before signing a lease:

What are the lease terms?

The apartment manager will generally go over the terms of the lease prior to the renter signing it, but it is still a good idea for the renter to review the lease in detail. Before signing a lease, renters should make sure they ask questions and understand lease terms related to:

  • Duration of the lease

Many leases are for one year but there are also short-term rentals of six months or even month-to-month. Renters should ensure that the agreed-upon duration of the lease is indicated in the leasing agreement. Once the lease is signed, the renter is locked into that time frame.


  • Fees

Fees are usually listed on the first page of the lease agreement. These fees can include, but are not limited to, an application fee or credit report fee, monthly pet fees, parking fees, and valet trash service fees.

  • Move-in and Move-out clauses

The move-in date will be specified on the lease as well as the advance notice required for moving out at the end of the lease. The notice for moving out is typically 30 to 60 days. If appropriate notice is not given, the lease could automatically renew, or the tenant could lose their security deposit.

What are the policies on breaking the lease early?

Life is not predictable, and a new job or personal situation may require a renter to move before their lease is up. Many leases contain an early termination clause that outlines the process for breaking the lease and any fees associated with this situation.

There are more options for such situations: the tenant may be required to pay a penalty that’s roughly the equivalent of two or three months’ rent; they may forfeit their security deposit; or they might even be required to pay rent until the property manager finds a replacement tenant. Apartment properties have different policies on breaking the lease and renters should make sure they know what they are.

Is the security deposit refundable?

Before signing a lease, renters should also ask about any circumstances that would cause them to lose their security deposit. Damages exceeding normal wear and tear can result in losing some or all of a renter’s security deposit.

A tenant may also lose their security deposit for breaking the lease early. Some properties offer a “security fee” which is generally less than a security deposit. Properties offer the fee as an option for renters who prefer to pay less upfront with the tradeoff being that the security fee—unlike a security deposit—is nonrefundable.


Are utilities included?

The cost of utilities and the payment procedures vary from one apartment complex to another. Ask about what—if any—utilities are included in the monthly rent before signing the lease. If water, electricity, heat, internet, cable, and/or trash pickup are not covered by the rent, find out the average cost of each utility bill in order to more accurately budget monthly spending on these costs.

When is rent due and how are rent payments made?

The process for paying rent differs among property management companies. Some companies accept payments online while others may require the tenant to drop off the payment at the office or mail the rental payment to a specific address. Renters should carefully read the lease to determine payment processes, accepted methods of payment, and the date the rent is due each month. Another important question to tackle is when a payment is considered late and whether there are any fees charged for late payments.

Is renters’ insurance required?

Some leases require tenants to have renters’ insurance. Required or not, renters’ insurance is a good idea, since it protects personal property such as furniture, clothing, and electronics from theft and damage.



How are maintenance requests handled?

It is also important to ask if the building offers 24/7 maintenance and/or on-site maintenance staff, as well as how maintenance requests should be submitted. General repair requests may be handled differently than emergency repair requests. Before signing a lease, renters should make sure they clearly understand the processes for submitting emergency and non-emergency maintenance requests, and obtain the appropriate contact information for each situation.

What is the community’s guest policy?

Many apartment communities have guest policies. Some leases only allow guests to stay for a specific length of time and may require the tenant to notify the property manager about longer-term guests. Renters should discuss the guest policy with the property manager prior to signing the lease to make sure they understand the rules, so they don’t inadvertently violate the terms of their lease.


Asking these questions prior to signing a lease can result in a smoother apartment rental experience by making sure there are no surprises on rental agreement terms, rules, policies, and requirements.

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Mihaela Buzec is a senior writer and online content developer for RentCafe. She covers topics about everything related to the renting lifestyle, from decorating and interior design to finding the right apartment, frugal living, money saving advice, and more. She dives deep into topics of interest, writing well-researched comprehensive guides on subjects such as renting with pets, saving on utilities, or avoiding rental scams to help renters stay informed and live smart.

Mihaela holds a BA in English and German Language and Literature, an MA in Current Linguistics, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in neurolinguistics.

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