Almost everyone living in NYC eventually finds themselves staring at a lease agreement, wondering what they’re agreeing to if they sign it. If this is you now, have no fear, we’ll give you a brief walkthrough on how to read a lease.

Although your landlord may be urging you to hurry up and sign it, it’s actually really important to understand the clauses it contains. Since you may be held liable for any future issues you may have with your apartment, you should take your time to properly read your apartment’s lease.

Here’s a brief rundown on how to read a lease and actually understand what it is they want you to agree to:

  • All the basics:

Everything you have agreed upon verbally, as well as all the contact information of all the parties (you and your landlord), together with specific details like the lease term, monthly rent rate, the bank name and location where your security deposit will be held and more should be disclosed in your lease.

  • Basic information about the landlord:

There should be information about who owns/manages the rental property, their full name, address, and contact information. If any of this is missing, you should certainly request that the lease be revised to include it.

  • Basic information about tenants:

All tenants who are renting the apartment should be entered into the contract in order to be legally bound to it. That means, yours and your roommates full names, addresses and contact information; in case someone’s name doesn’t appear on the document, than legally that person isn’t liable for rent, and those who are listed will be responsible for covering the rent. The number of allowed tenants and restriction of roommates should also be listed in the lease.

  • Crucial information about renting:

The lease must include which property is being rented, for what monthly price and the amount of security deposit given by tenants. Moreover, it should specify the length of the lease agreement (usually for a year or two, pay attention to the start and end dates), as well as what happens in case you or another party  (your landlord) decides to terminate the lease early.

Additionally, it should contain information about how far in advance you need to notify your landlord regarding lease renewal or cancelation (usually 30-60 days prior to the end date of the lease), as well as whether you have the option to sublet or find a new tenant if you have to leave. Read carefully to learn whether your lease includes an “automatic renewal,” which means that lease is renewed after it expires automatically unless you give notice otherwise by a certain date. You need to be aware of these details.

  • Rent:

How much is the rent, when is the monthly due date, do you have a few days extra after the due date to pay? Also, at what point is the rent payment considered late, are there any penalties for late rent payments and if so, how much? All of these details regarding rent payment should be clearly stated in your lease agreement.

  • It’s in the details:

In order to avoid headaches in the future, it is best that you know, agree and insist on including in the lease the basic details like:

  • Who fixes what: who is responsible for minor repairs, who is for major repairs in the apartment.
  • Modifications: which modifications you can or cannot make to the property (like painting, replacing carpets, etc.).
  • Utilities payment: before the signing, you should come to an agreement with your landlord regarding whether some utilities are covered by them (heating, electricity, water) and which utilities you will be required to pay. Needless to say, these details should be included in the lease agreement.
  • Hidden Fees: what additional fees you may be responsible for and how much do they cost; for example, are there any pet fees, or an additional security deposit required to have a pet on the property?

Take time to read your lease agreement carefully and thoroughly before you sign it. Once it is signed, the terms are legally binding. Save a copy of the final lease signed by you and the owner or manager. 


Disclaimer: This information should not be construed as legal advice. If you are having an issue with your landlord, we suggest you seek competent counsel to ensure that your rights are properly adjudicated. The publisher of this article and its contributors disclaim responsibility for any damages that may result from any error, inaccuracy, or omission contained herein.

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