An apartment lease tells you your rights, your responsibilities and those of the landlord. Most important are the financial specifics. The lease will tell you how much you're supposed to pay in rent each month, along with fees for late payments, whether certain utilities are covered by the tenant or the landlord, and move-in costs like and a one-time security deposit. Usually, the security deposit is returned to the renter when he or she moves out -- or at least most of it. This is a fund your landlord will dip into to fix any damage incurred during your residence. If you happen to put a hole in the wall, and it costs $100 to fix, your security deposit of $300 will be returned to you at $200.
A lease needs to be reasonable (quiet hours shouldn't have to start at 3 p.m., for example), and a good, professional landlord will be open to compromise. Read over your lease carefully, and don't let a landlord or leasing agent rush you. If you don't understand something on your lease and need it clarified in writing, ask to have that section changed. If you disagree with something, ask for the landlord to work with you. Make sure that any changes are initialed and dated by both the tenant and the landlord, because once you sign it at the end, you accept the terms of everything in the lease.
A lease lists everyone who lives in the apartment, and all tenants must sign on the dotted line, but the agreement doesn't account for internal roommate matters. Leasing time is a great opportunity to draw up a roommate contract to decide how bills, chores and maintenance are to be split. And make sure you include everyone living there -- if you sneak in someone after the lease has been signed, you could be evicted (and/or lose your deposit).
What about pets, pet fees and pet rules in an apartment? Read on.