Home Finance: Signing a Lease

Signing a lease is a big commitment, so make sure to look before you lease


While you should certainly look over your lease carefully, it's also important to remember that you're being checked out, too. When you apply to rent a house or an apartment, most landlords or brokers will check your credit history to make sure you've handled credit in the past in a way that suggests you'll make your rent payments consistently. You should also be prepared for your landlord or broker to pass on the cost of running the credit check, which can be as much as $100.

If you think your credit history might be a source of trouble, it's a good idea to request a free copy of your credit report beforehand at www.annualcreditreport.com. While you might not be able to erase any serious black marks on your record, you can identify and respond to any errors. Resolving them should help your chances of being approved for a lease.

If you're rejected because of credit issues, you have the legal right to know which credit bureau provided the damaging information to the landlord or broker who rejected you, and that credit bureau is required to give you a free copy of the report in question. But it's up to you to figure out where the problems are and fix them before you apply again.


If you have poor credit, are below a certain income threshold, or are a new renter, your landlord might not let you sign a lease alone. In those cases, you need a cosigner, who agrees to pay your rent if you default.

The laws that govern cosigners vary from state to state. If you think you might need a cosigner, contact prospective brokers or landlords to find out the details before you start looking at and applying for properties. Knowing the requirements can mean the difference between renting the place you want and getting turned down on a technicality.


Your lease is a legally binding agreement between you and your landlord. Once you agree to it, you're obligated to keep to its terms, so be sure to read it thoroughly before you sign. The lease should include a few key pieces of information that ensure you're getting exactly what you're paying for:

  • The names of all adults who will be living in the residence
  • The exact property that's being rented
  • The length of the lease and the dates it covers
  • How much the rent is, when it must be paid, and what the penalties are for late payment
  • How much your security deposit is, and how it will be returned to you
  • Which utilities are and are not included in the price of the rent
  • The conditions for renewing your lease and for giving notice of your moving