5 tips for signing your first lease

By Lillian Barkley, Features editor

Moving out of the dorms and into a house or apartment is a benchmark moment – it’s the next step in gaining responsibility and independence. Signing a legally binding document is a necessary evil that comes before you can move in.

It’s tempting to blindly sign a liease like you’re accepting Apple’s terms and conditions, but not reading a lease carefully can come back to haunt you. A lease can be dense, but there are five main things that are important to look out for.

Security deposit

The security deposit is the thorn in the side of basically every renter. Make sure you hammer out the details of what is allowed in your rental with your realtor. Can you hang up pictures? Is it fine if you copy keys? What if a drunken guest smashes a hole in the wall during a party? The security deposit is typically the same as one month’s rent, so it can be more than annoying if your realtor determines that you can’t get it back because you wanted to redecorate with some wall hangings. It’s also worth it to see if there are any other things that would keep you from getting the security deposit back, such as not cleaning the house before moving out.

Leaser’s responsibilities

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    Renting is a two-way street. Renters need to keep the house maintained, but if something goes wrong in the house, the renter usually isn’t required to pay for it out of pocket. If an appliance breaks, the bathroom floods or the pipes burst, it should be clear who needs to take care of the repairs and if the renters will be required to pay anything. If you’re working with a leasing company, you should know the specific person you should contact. Make a note of any previous damage to the house and negotiate to have things improved – being a college student doesn’t mean you have to live in a broken house.


    Paying monthly bills is another budget concern that gets absorbed into the “room and board” cost for dorms. Housing situations vary when it comes to included utilities, and a low rental price can be offset if no utilities are included. Gas is usually included, though water, trash and electric generally aren’t. If you’re living somewhere with amenities – laundry for most, a gym or pool at nicer apartments – determine what the rules are and if there are any additional costs.

    Rental period (12-month or 9-month)

    This is especially important for students who are used to dorms, which follow a 9-month agreement to fit with the school year. Unless you’re planning on staying on campus for the summer, you’ll need to find a sublease or budget for an extra three months of rent. Pay extra attention to the ending period of the lease – if you’re planning on leaving anything in the rental over the summer, it needs to be moved out by the end of the lease. Unless you’ve worked out an agreement with your leaser, leaving any personal belongings can result in breaking the lease (and not getting your security deposit back).

    Extra guests

    Whether the guest is a sub-letter or an animal companion, the lease should cover who’s allowed to stay. This is especially pertinent if you want to sublet for the summer or a semester, which is necessary if you want to study abroad. If you feel like keeping a pet, make sure it’s allowed or can be negotiated.


    Lillian is a junior in Media.

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