8 Things Renters Should Do Before Signing on the Dotted Line


It can be a real challenge to find the perfect rental unit in the location your desire, in a complex you love, and at a price point you can afford. When you finally do land one, you might be a little over eager to sign the lease. But before you do, there are a few things you need to do first. After all, you’ll be stuck upholding your end of the bargain for at least 12 months, or however long the lease is in effect.

Take the following details into consideration before signing your lease to make sure you’ll be a happy tenant.

1. Read the Fine Print

A lease can be pretty lengthy, but it’s worth your time to read through all of it before you sign on the dotted line. A lot of the fine print might be boring legal terminology, but you just might find some details that are questionable. Many rental issues often result from tenants not understanding all the contents of the lease. Luckily, if you’re working with a real estate agent, you’ll have some professional help going through the fine print to make sure you’re not signing anything that could compromise your enjoyment of the property.

2. Inquire About Modifications to the Unit

After you move into your new unit, you’ll likely want to make some changes to it and personalize it to suit your tastes and lifestyle. Painting, hanging art work on the walls, or installing shelving units might go against what your landlord permits. Different landlords have different rules about making modifications, so you’d be well advised to find out exactly what you can do to the place before you sign the lease.

3. Find Out What’s Included, and What Isn’t

The monthly rent is one thing you’ll obviously be responsible for paying, but are there any other costs you’ll need to take care of? While many rentals are inclusive of utilities, gas, water, and even cable, other rentals are not. Make sure you find out what other charges you’re obligated to cover, and roughly how much you can expect to pay each month for them so you can accurately organize your budget.

4. Get Your Documents Prepared

Before a landlord agrees to rent you a unit, you’ll need to submit certain documents to make sure you’ll be a good tenant who will take care of the property, be a good neighbor, and pay on time and in full each month with no issues. In order to get a good idea of what you will be like as a tenant, your landlord will likely ask for paperwork such as a letter of employment, a pay stub,  acopy of your driver’s license, a tax return, a bank statement, and a letter of reference from previous landlords along with their contact information.

This can take a while to collect, so you’d be better off doing all that leg work before you find a unit you want to rent out, especially if the market is a competitive one where many qualified people have their eye on the same place.

5. Visit the Place at Various Times of the Day

What the place looks like at various times of the day will differ, which is why you might want to visit the place more than once. For instance, the bedroom might get wonderful light during the early afternoon, but could be annoyingly illuminated and loud all night if it’s directly in front of an all-night eatery. You’ll also get a sense of what the neighbors are like in the evening versus the morning. Visiting at different times of the day will give you a better sense of what life will be like as a tenant in that unit.

6. Take Note of Any Damage

You don’t want to be blamed for any damage to the apartment that you’re not responsible for. Look carefully for any issues with the unit, such as stains on the carpet, scratches on the walls, scuff marks on the hardwood flooring, or ill-functioning appliances. If you find anything, make sure to take note of these issues and bring them to the attention of the landlord before you sign the lease and move in.

7. Find Out About Any Rules About Subletting

Perhaps you enjoy taking month-long summer vacations, or are away on business a few weeks out of the year. If that’s the case, you might consider subletting the unit while you’re gone so you can recoup any money that you’re spending in rent when you’re not even there. Before you do that, you’ll need to find out if subletting is even allowed. If it isn’t, you could be slapped with a big fine or even face eviction if you do sublet when it’s against the regulations stipulated in the lease. 

8. Scope Out the Landlord

Your landlord can play a key role in how much you’ll be able to enjoy your rental unit. Check to see what the landlord’s policies are on making visits, dealing with issues with neighbors or the property itself, or where he or she is based out of. You will also want to find out how easy it will be to get a hold of your landlord, especially during emergency situations where immediate communication is necessary.

The Bottom Line

Use this checklist to make sure the decision you make about signing a lease on a specific property is the best one for you. Failing to do your homework and ask the right questions could put you in a precarious situation for a few months until your lease is up. Instead, a little due diligence can ensure that you get full enjoyment out of your rental.