Understanding the Lease

No matter where you live, you will be asked to sign a lease. Leases are often long documents with lots of technical terminology. Be prepared to sign by reviewing these tips and common terms.

Tips before you sign:

  • If possible, visit the individual unit that you will be renting before singing the lease to verify everything is as described and will be suitable for the duration of the lease.
  • If you plan to have roommates, discuss how bills will be paid, split up responsibilities for household duties, and create a roommate contract for accountability.
  • If anything in the lease is unclear, set up a time to speak to Student Legal Services to make sure you fully understand what you are signing before you commit.

Important Terms to Know:

A lease is a legally-binding contract. Signing one means you commit to all of its terms, and are responsible for paying rent throughout the entire length of the agreement. Lease terms very, but most will last a full year (12 months).

A guarantor is someone who signs the lease along with the tenant. Full-time students are often required to have a guarantor, who usually must earn three times the monthly rent. Guarantors must agree to have their credit and rental payment history checked by the landlord before qualifying. The tenants’ failure to pay rent may impact the guarantor’s credit score.

An individual lease is when each tenant signs a separate lease and makes individual rent payments. In most cases, each tenant will be required to have their own guarantor. Tenants are responsible for their assigned bedroom and bathroom. However, each tenant has shared responsibility of common spaces.  Landlords can assign roommates in an individual lease.

A group lease is when all tenants sign one lease and make group rent payments. All tenants are equally responsible and liable for the entire property. At least one guarantor is typically required. Utilities are typically not included in group leases. Tenants are often responsible for obtaining utility services and putting them in their name. Landlords cannot assign roommates in a group lease.

Utility caps are common on some of the utility services like water and electricity. Once a utility cap is met, the overage is billed to the residents. Residents are expected to pay this overage. We encourage students to budget for the cost associated with exceeding utility caps.

A subleaser is another tenant that rents your room or apartment for the period of time you’ll be absent during the length of your lease. Students can use the Off-Campus Student Services Message Board to find students to take over their lease or to find a room to sublease.

A security deposit is a fee you pay to ensure that your rent will be paid and the terms of the lease will be met. Security deposits may be as much as 1-2 months’ rent. The deposit is typically refundable upon move-out. The landlord cannot withhold your security deposit for normal wear and tear like minor painting fixes and carpet cleaning upon move out. If a landlord withholds any or all of a security deposit, they must provide the tenant an itemized list of charges. Speak with Student Legal Services if you believe your deposit has been withheld unjustly.

You might be asked to pay an application fee before applying to lease the property. This is typically a one-time nonrefundable payment.

Renter’s insurance can protect your possessions from theft and damage. Students are encouraged to obtain renter’s insurance because a landlord’s insurance policy might not pay for losses of your own personal property. Students may be covered under their parent’s homeowner or renter’s insurance policy. Check out this Renters Insurance Guide for More information about renters insurance

Eviction is when a landlord terminates a lease agreement. This can occur if a tenant damages property, fails to pay rent, violates terms of the lease, or commits a crime. Set up a time to speak to Student Legal Services if you believe you were evicted for unlawful reasons.