The Basics

There are some basics you’ll certainly want to see on your lease. These shouldn’t surprise you, but you’ll want to make sure they’re in the lease so that there aren’t any mix-ups on whose name the lease is in or what unit you’re getting.
  • Tenant and landlord basic information and emergency contact

    Your lease should include an area for the name of the tenant and tenant’s mailing address as well as the name of the landlord and landlord’s mailing address. Your lease will also likely ask for an emergency contact.
  • Property address

    The property address and unit number will be clearly stated in the lease. Make sure that this information is correct so there are no questions as to which unit and property you are renting.
  • Contacts for rental payments, maintenance requests, and emergency maintenance

    Your landlord should provide you with names, phone numbers, addresses, and potentially emails or websites for the appropriate contacts for paying rent, making maintenance requests during normal hours, and emergency maintenance.
  • Co-signers (if relevant)

    If you need a co-signer on your lease, typically because you don’t meet the required income, the names of any co-signers will also be included in the lease. Typically a contract will clarify that co-signers are responsible for any obligations (rent, fees, damages) not met by the primary tenant.

Lease Terms

Your contract will establish the start date and end date of your lease, renewal terms, and what your rental payments cover.
  • Lease date, starting date, ending date

    Your lease document itself should be dated to establish the contract between the landlord and tenant(s). The contract should also contain a starting and ending date to the actual lease (meaning the term). The starting and ending date are also called the “term”.
  • Renewal terms, including whether the lease auto-renews or not

    This is a very important item as in many cases, leases can automatically renew. Understand if the lease terminates completely on the ending date or if it automatically renews. If it automatically renews, check to see what the timing of the renewal is – does it renew for a full year, or go month-to-month. If unspecified, often a contract will transition to month-to-month.
  • Advanced notice for move-out

    The lease may specify (specifically if there is an auto-renewal) how much advanced notice you must give before moving out. Often the notice must be provided in writing 30-60+ days before the end of a renewal term. Be aware that in many contracts, failure to provide this notice requires payment for the full renewal term.


How much is due each month and when to pay.
  • Total rent during the duration of the lease and the monthly rent

    The lease contract should clearly state the total amount of rent during the lease as well as the amount due each month.
  • Due date for rent

    Rent is often collected in advance for each month. The lease should elaborate a specific due date, usually based on a numbered day of each month (i.e. the fifth day of each month).
  • Grace periods and late charges

    The contract may allow a certain number of days for rent to be late, called a grace period. If rent is not paid by the designated due date, there may be a late charge that is clarified in the lease. Late charges are often considered “additional rent” and must be paid before you can start paying off any remaining rent.
  • Accepted payment methods and payment fees

    Landlords do not always accept all payment methods, so the contract may specify which payment methods are accepted: cash, money order, personal check, credit card, cashier’s check, etc. Similarly, if a payment is rejected for any reason, the contract may include a specified fee amount.


Rental contracts frequently require some form of advanced payment, such as first month’s rent and/or security deposit
  • Security deposit

    Most landlords require a refundable security deposit. A security deposit provides the landlord some protection against a breach of contract by the tenant or to cover the cost of repair to any damage beyond normal wear-and-tear. In Pennsylvania, the landlord can require at most two months’ rent in year one of a lease, one month’s deposit in years two through five, and after year five, the landlord may not increase the security deposit even if rent prices increase. Pennsylvania also requires security deposits be placed in an escrow account and be returned no more than 30 days after a tenant moves out. The lease will likely state the name of the financial institution at which the deposit will be held. In addition, security deposits are independent of rent payments and are not used to pay rent.
  • First month’s rent and any other advanced rent payments

    As rent is paid up front each month in most contracts, landlords often require the first month’s rent be paid during or shortly after the lease is signed. It may also require a pro-rated amount for an incomplete month (meaning that the landlord will charge a proportional amount for a shorter month than normal).
  • Special delivery conditions to advanced payment

    The contract may state separate addresses, recipients, and/or due dates for advanced payments that are different than the landlord. For example, if you use a broker during your apartment search, sometimes the first month’s rent is supplied to the broker as payment for their services.
  • Conditions for return of security deposit

    Your lease will mention what you as the tenant must do to receive your deposit (return keys and written notice of new address is common). In addition, it may mention what the landlord must provide to deduct costs, typically an itemized list of damages and repair costs that would be deducted.

Property Use

If you plan on subletting or having additional residents besides the tenants signing the lease, make sure that your lease allows it and that the additional residents are added.
  • Authorized list of tenants and number of people allowed to live in a property

    Your lease may ask you to name all the occupants of the unit. In addition, the lease will most likely state the maximum number of residents allowed. Be very careful to pay attention to this if you have roommates or expect long-term guests.
  • Pets

    The lease should indicate whether the tenant is allowed to keep pets. Often there are additional notes (an addendum) that provide greater detail on the rules/regulations. Service animals are not considered pets and are often listed with the authorized occupants.
  • Transfer and subleasing

    The lease will say of the tenant may transfer or sublease to another tenant with or without landlord approval (it often requires written permission). In addition, this section often states that the landlord may transfer the lease to another landlord.
  • Possession

    The lease will clearly state the day a tenant can move-in as well as the remedies if that move-in date is delayed by an existing tenant, work on the property, or something else. Often times if there is a delay in the move-in date it allows the tenant to move in later at no added cost or break the lease with no penalty.
  • Rules, regulations, and fines

    Any rules and regulations of the unit or property (condo association, homeowners association, etc.) may be attached or included in the lease contract. The lease will likely state the tenant is responsible for obeying these rules, clarify any fines, and specify if the tenant is responsible for any fines against the landlord due to the actions of the tenant or the tenant’s guests.
  • Right of entry for others (landlord, maintenance, sales agent, etc.)

    Leases should state that the landlord or a representative may enter a property to inspect, repair, or show a property. Usually the amount of advanced notice required is clarified (often 24 hours). In addition, this section may clarify if the tenant can place marketing signs (“For Rent”), take pictures of the property, or leave a key for anyone viewing the property (prior to you moving out).

What's Included

New appliance and monthly fees can add up, so understand what is included in your rent and what isn’t.
  • Fixtures and appliances included and who covers repairs

    While it should be fairly clear from your previous viewings of an apartment what appliances are included, ideally the contract states this as well. It should also state if the tenant or landlord is responsible for standard repairs (often it is the landlord). Common items specified here are: oven, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer, dryer, microwave, garbage disposal, and any air conditioning units.
  • Utilities and services

    Your contract should clearly clarify who pays for which utilities and services. By default, the tenant will pay anything not listed, so clarify every potential expense. The main categories will be electrical, gas, heat, hot water, cold water, trash removal, recycling removal, air conditioning (if separate from electric), TV/internet, condo or homeowners' fees, parking fees, maintenance/common area fees, pest control, snow removal, telephone, lawn care, sewage fees, sewer maintenance, and heater maintenance.
  • Condition of property and included features

    This is always a tough one, as the contract likely will say that you inspected the property and agree to the property “as is”. That said, it’s most likely you do the most detailed inspection AFTER you move in. Consequently, do as much work as possible early on to understand the condition of the property and make sure you are comfortable with it and elaborate any known defects you may have spotted. At worst, check in with your landlord and have them verify the condition of anything you’re uncertain about.
  • Renters insurance

    Often a landlord requires a tenant to obtain renter’s insurance because the Landlord’s insurance does not cover the Tenant, the tenant's property, or the tenant's guest. There are usually two requirements: an amount of coverage for property insurance and an amount of coverage on liability insurance to insure the property and tenant/guests, respectively. We suggest getting this in advance of moving in to make sure you can provide proof of insurance at any time.

Safety and Property Care

Check to make sure your landlord has clarified what safety precautions are in place
  • Smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers

    The lease should state if smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers are installed, and whether they will be tested regularly.
  • Standards for tenant

    You may find a number of sections clarifying what you should do to care for the property (i.e. keep it safe, obey laws) and what you shouldn’t do (i.e. keep hazardous materials, damage the property). Most of these will be straightforward, but make sure you are very aware of any repercussions there may be for your actions.
  • Lead disclosures

    For some older properties, there may be a requirement that the landlord disclose whether lead-based paint was used on the property. There also may be a requirement to receive additional information on lead-based paint so the tenant is aware of any risks.

Breach of Contract and Rights

In general, most rental experiences should end well, but be aware of some other cases that can occur that are stated in the contract
  • Landlord remedies for breach of contract by tenant

    If you, the tenant, break any rules of the contract, the Landlord will have several options. They are generally to evict the tenant, file a lawsuit to receive payment, or keep the security deposit for unpaid rent or damages. Written notice is not always needed.
  • Tenant’s rights

    Be aware of your rights as a tenant and your remedy if the landlord breaches their contract. There are very clear laws in each state around housing codes and tenant’s rights, so be aware of these standards.
  • What happens in a sale or transfer of ownership

    Most often if a property is sold, either the new landlord can take ownership of the lease (meaning they are your new landlord), or they may be allowed to simply terminate the lease with a certain amount of notice. While there are certainly a number of scenarios in between these two options, be aware that there is always a chance that either may occur.
  • Ending your lease early

    The contract should state what circumstances allow you to end your lease early. It can be as simple as a termination fee with advanced notice; in some cases you have to wait until a new tenant is found, or, at worst, you may have to pay all the remaining rent.