Whether you’re moving out of your parent’s home or off-campus, renting your first place can be exciting. It can also create some anxiety when you’re presented with the lease agreement to sign.

A lease is a legal document and is binding once signed. That’s why it’s important to ask for clarification about anything you don’t understand. If you don’t feel comfortable asking the property manager or landlord, have a trusted friend or relative along to help you.

Here’s what to look for in a lease when you rent an apartment or house.

Tenant and Landlord

To be clear, you are reading the lease as the renter or tenant. You are renting from a landlord or property manager. If it’s a large apartment complex, the property manager will probably be used instead of the landlord.

About the Property in the Lease Agreement

The lease agreement should clearly state the address of the apartment, as well as the property manager’s name and contact information. It will also spell out how long the lease is for – one year? Two years? Month-to-month? Policies should be included about rent increases, subletting the apartment, house guests, and other rules such as after-hour noise.

Appliances that come with the house or apartment will be listed. Typically, refrigerators and stoves are standard, but washers and dryers often are not included. If you’re renting a furnished apartment, the lease should tell you what furniture is in place – sofa, dining set, etc.

Rent, Deposits, and Fees

Rent

How much you pay in rent and when it is due is important to note. Rents are usually due within the first 10 days of a month. Your lease will specify the date. If you’re late paying your rent, you’ll owe a late fee specified in your lease. And find out how you can pay your rent – automatic debit, check or….?

Security Deposit

Before you move in, you’ll have to pay a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one full month’s rent and is returned in full or partially when you vacate. If there is no damage to the apartment or house, you should get your deposit back in full.

If there is any damage, the property manager has a right to hold back some of your deposit to pay for repairs. Make sure your lease agreement spells out what you can or can’t do to the place. Can you hang pictures? Some apartment managers don’t allow holes in the wall. Can you paint the walls? Check with the landlord before you do.

Utilities

The lease will state who is responsible for utilities, the tenant, or the landlord. Find out who is paying the electric and water bill, but don’t forget to ask about other services such as Wi-Fi or trash pick-up.

Pets

Some places will let you have a pet for an extra fee, either monthly or one-time. Make sure to read the pet policy, which explains the fee, the kind of pets allowed, and how to handle damages a pet may cause.

Repairs and Maintenance

If you’re not handy with a hammer, you may want to consider a place where the landlord is responsible for all repairs and maintenance. Sometimes, the lease will specify that the tenant will take care of upkeep such as replacing light bulbs in the apartment or mowing the lawn at a house.

But when it comes to a leaky faucet, will you be expected to fix it, or is there a maintenance crew on call? Make sure you know who will pay for the repair and how quickly it might get done. Ask about after-hours emergencies, too. You don’t want to be stuck without air conditioning during the hottest weekend of the summer without someone to call.

Before You Sign

Of course, you’ll want to do a walk-through before you sign the lease. You want to make sure that the appliances listed are there and that things like ceiling fans, faucets, and showerheads are working properly.

Take pictures or notes of anything you notice. You don’t want to be responsible for a stain on the carpet that won’t come out, especially if you have a pet.

It’s Time to Sign the Lease Agreement

The time to make any changes to your lease agreement is before you sign it. If you need to pay your rent mid-month instead of on the first because you don’t get paid until then, make sure you and the landlord agree to that to ensure you aren’t stuck with a late fee every month. If you and the landlord agree to any changes, make sure it’s in the lease and that you both initial any changes.

Be sure you get a copy of the lease that you and the landlord have signed, initialed, and dated. Keep it safe because if there are any disagreements between you and the landlord, this may help resolve it.