You’ve found a great apartment and you were approved to rent it, now you just have to sign the lease; but don’t be fooled, this isn’t the easy part.

Singing a rental lease agreement is a serious financial commitment and you need to completely understand what you’re agreeing to by singing a rental lease agreement. I’ve compiled a list of questions you should be sure to ask before you sign on the dotted line. This week I’m giving you the basics. Next week in Part II, I’ll go over some of the more nitty gritty details to be on the lookout for when signing a lease.


  • How much is rent?
  • When is rent due?
  • Where is rent due? Some apartment lease agreements stipulate rent payments be made in hand, others allow rent payments to be mailed and some even allow renters to pay online. My advice: try to avoid direct withdrawal. Apartments might take extra money from your account on accident. I lived in a unit that preferred direct withdrawal so I created a checking account solely for my rent. I transferred the exact amount of rent into it every month. I was overdrawn twice, and made the management company pay for the overdraft fees both times.
  • When is a rent payment considered late and what is the late fee?

Security Deposit

  • How much is the security deposit?
  • What do you need to do to get your full security deposit back? I’ve had landlords flat-out tell me I will not get my entire security deposit back no matter what I do. Landlords may use a portion of your security deposit to clean and repair your apartment before the next tenant moves in. Be wary of a property management company or landlord that says you can paint your apartment and requires a security deposit, they will probably dock your security deposit any repainting costs when you move out.
  • When is the security deposit returned? Be sure to find out how soon after you move out your security deposit will be returned. Some landlords and property management companies offer you the option of using your security deposit to pay for the last month and half’s rent.
  • Are there any other deposits like a pet deposit? Check how much an additional deposit is and, in the case of a pet deposit, can you get it back if you no longer have your pet?


  • What utilities does rent include? There is a huge range on what utilities a tenant is responsible for and what the building will cover. You may be on the hook for everything from water to garbage services to heat. Be sure to know what specific utilities you are responsible for.
  • What are the average costs of utilities for your unit? If your apartment is more than two years old the landlord or property management company should have an idea of what your utility costs should average.
  • What utility companies can you use?


  • Can you sublease a bedroom or entire apartment to renters not on the lease?
  • Can you add roommates to your apartment without their name appearing on the lease?
  • What is the policy on adding or removing someone from the lease?

Understanding Your Apartment Lease Part II will cover more questions to ask about your lease like moving in, costs of amenities, Act of God coverage and more.