10 things you must do before signing your first lease

Moving into your first apartment can be very exciting, but it can also be very nerve wrecking if you aren’t careful. With only 40% of millennials living independently from their parents, you’ve made it to a small group of young adults who didn’t (or couldn’t) move back home after college.



If you didn’t rent an off-campus home during undergrad, this experience is entirely new for you and you’re bound to make mistakes. And if you’re moving in with roommates, it doesn’t get any easier but can complicate things a bit more. Figuring out which spot is the right place for you, and making sure you and your roommates are on the same page are two different jobs that must be done simultaneously.

Things can also be very different depending whether or not you’re renting a two-family home versus moving into an apartment complex. In both cases, doing a complete review of your lease is what will save you in case things aren’t working out.


Here are 10 basic things you must do before signing your first lease:

Read the lease carefully. It doesn’t matter how nice the landlord seems to be or how nice the place is – read the lease in its entirety before singing it. Many of us don’t read the entire lease until a conflict came up and we had to learn to deal with in a legally binding way. Don’t wait until an issue arises to figure out what your options are. Read the lease very carefully and be sure to ask any questions for clarification. Most leases are pretty vague to give the landlord wiggle room, but it needs to work for you as well.

Understand all costs. How much is it going to cost you to move in? Is than an application fee? How much will it cost for late rent fees? Lost keys? These are things that are important because the last thing you need is an “unexpected” charge on your account. Knowing all the upfront and future costs can let you know if you can even afford the apartment. There are move-in costs and furnishing costs - make sure both are in your budget.


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Check out the atmosphere. An apartment can seem like it’s perfect for you except for one little thing, the environment. Make sure the neighborhood suits your personality and lifestyle. Don’t move into a super quiet area knowing that you’ll want to throw gatherings and it’s prohibited. Also, don’t move into a lively neighborhood if you like peace and quiet all the time. Notice how the neighbors handle trash, having guests, their pets. If you don’t like it, do move there.

Do a move-in inspection.  Check everything prior to move in but if you don’t, do it immediately. Report back to the landlord to fix whatever is broken, but don’t try to take on that responsibility yourself.

Check for bus routes. In case of a car emergency, are you comfortable walking in the area if you have to? Make sure you’ll have an alternate route to work and shopping in case your car needs repairs. Just because everything is fine one minute, it can all change the next. Make sure your location is optimal for any circumstance.

Know how to communicate with your landlord.  If you need to give notice regarding you moving out, do you understand how you should communicate that? Some landlords require a notice in writing, which may or may not include emails, text, etc. This is also a good time to hash out how your rent should be paid each month. Again, read your lease carefully.

Is heat included? This could be important if you live in a state where it’s cold more than half of the year. Heat isn’t cheap, so if that’s an important factor for you, it could make all the difference in where you decide to move.

Keep copies of all documents. In a worst case scenario, if you ever have to go to court it will be extremely helpful if you have copies of all important documents and communications. Before you get settled in, make sure you get a copy of your signed lease and receipts each time you pay rent. If you are renting from a complex, this will be more readily available to you but if you aren’t, speak up about getting these things.

Talk to the neighbors.  Ask them how they are treated and how they like it, there’s nothing wrong with that. Even if you must ask in front of the landlord or leasing agent, do it. Where you live is more critical to your happiness and sanity than you may think, so do your due diligence when apartment hunting.

Shop around. Do your research and make a pros and cons list to find the right place for you. Visualizing the positives and negatives to each apartment will help you find clarity in what’s negotiable for you, and what you refuse to comprise on. Never sign on to the first place you see,

What would you have liked to know before moving into your first apartment?