Signing a Lease - What to Expect

Experiences differ

Your lease-signing experience will vary depending on several factors. Are you renting from a management company or an independent landlord? Did you use an agent or find your apartment on your own? Did you need a guarantor to help you secure the apartment?

The signing

The lease will be prepared for you after your application goes through. If you don't hear about the application in two to three days, call the landlord or your agent to find out where things stand. Once the credit check goes through and you're approved, you can expect to sign the lease at the building you'll be renting in. If you are renting from a management company that has several holdings, you'll go to the address of one of those holdings. Signing a lease almost always happens during business hours on a weekday, so be prepared to take time off from work.

Almost always, the lease signing happens in conjunction with a walk-through of the apartment you'll be leasing. Bring a camera and take pictures. You will be expected to leave the apartment in the same condition you found it, so make sure you've documented the condition it's in at the lease signing.

Money issues

You'll need to bring a check - almost always a bank check - to cover the previously agreed on amount, a security deposit and either the first month's rent or the first and last month's rent. If you are renting a rent-stabilized apartment, the landlord can only ask for the first month's rent and a security deposit no higher than one month's rent. You should be able to receive the security deposit back when you move out, so you might ask your landlord where he'll be keeping it (i.e. which bank). Some extremely good landlords will keep it in a separate account for you and give you back the interest it accrued while you were a tenant. These are the landlords you feel sorry to leave. Usually, your lease will serve as a receipt for these funds, but confirm that, just in case. First rule of renting - always get a receipt.

Paperwork to bring

You will need to bring all your paperwork with you, even if you already submitted it for the application. It seems like you shouldn't have to, but once in a while you run into a landlord who doesn't keep the best files, and the information included in your paperwork may come in handy at the lease signing. Just remember that your lease is a binding contract; it needs to contain correct information because it could affect you in the future if the building is sold, if the management company changes hands, etc.

Make sure the lease includes these items

When you are presented with the lease, you will want to confirm that it includes:

  • The correct amount of rent
  • The day of the month that your rent is due
  • The name, address, and telephone number of the landlord
  • Which utilities, if any, are included
  • What the building's rules are


If you have roommates, their names should be on the lease as well. You should read the rules, if there are any, regarding subletting because stuff happens and you want to be able to sublet if necessary.

Changes to the lease

If you made any oral agreements with the landlord when you saw the apartment or during the walk-through, they should be written in the contract. This includes any exceptions to the building's rules. Some buildings don't allow move-ins to happen after five pm, for instance. If you plan to move during those hours, you'll need to write that into the contract. You'll want to ask about pets or if you can run a home business from your apartment or even if you want to paint the walls a different color or use nails to hang pictures. Make sure it's all in your lease because changing a lease later on can open the door to increased rent.

If you are renting a rent-stabilized place, makes sure the rent-stabilization rider is included in the lease.

If you used an agent, he or she may or may not be at the lease signing. If your agent is not present, the landlord will collect the broker's fee and pass it on to the broker. Sometimes, the broker handles the lease signing on behalf of the landlord and you won't even meet the landlord

If you used a guarantor, the landlord should have already received all necessary information from him or her, and the guarantor paperwork will be attached to the lease.

If the apartment is empty and ready for you to move in, you'll get the keys when you sign the lease. Chances are, however, that the previous tenant will still be there or the apartment needs more work or your lease doesn't officially begin until a certain date. In these cases, you won't get the keys until move-in date. Make sure you call the landlord or the super or the building manager a few days before your move-in date to make sure everything is happening as it should. We've heard of people showing up with a truck of stuff only to find that the previous tenant hasn't moved out yet, and that's just not very pretty.


Keep a copy of all the paperwork that you and the landlord sign. These are official documents, and it can be hard to get a copy of them later on - especially if there's a problem.