Finding a new apartment is exciting. You can’t wait to move in and make it your home. But don’t rush to sign the lease agreement before you review it thoroughly. That’s the first thing all real estate property management companies should tell you.

Once your search for a place in the right location, with the right number of bedrooms and bathrooms and all the amenities you’d hoped for is within reach, you know you’ve found a place where you and your family will be happy and comfortable.

When it comes time to sign the rental agreement to secure your lease and rental rate, make sure you’ve completed the six following tasks before signing on the dotted line.

  1. Read the lease.Make sure the lease expressly states the monthly rental amount, security deposit required, lease terms, tenant’s responsibilities, utilities included (if any), the unit’s address, name of the property management company (if applicable), and contact information for management and maintenance personnel. Many rental properties use a secure online residential portal for residents to pay their monthly rent, request services, and access a community bulletin board for news, events, and announcements.
  1. Responsibility for utilities.In most rental communities, utility connections and monthly payments are the responsibility of the individual tenants for services like heat, electricity, cable, and internet. Often the property owner pays the water bill, but make sure your lease reflects that arrangement. Make sure to review this section of the lease to be sure you’re clear about your responsibilities.
  1. If you have a pet at move-in time, most likely you’ve already cleared it through the property management company or landlord. If you think you might decide to get a pet after move-in, make sure yours is a pet-friendly apartment community.  Check to find out how much a pet deposit will cost you, and whether a pet will also increase your monthly rental price. Some rental communities provide a lot of great provisions for pets, such as convenient pet stations throughout the property, dog runs, pet walking services, and even pet parks.
  1. Subleasing policy.Most property management companies do not allow subleasing, in which the resident whose name is on the lease chooses to which is when the resident whose name is on the lease chooses to take in a roommate or turn the apartment over to someone whose name is not on the lease. In some areas, it’s illegal to sublease. Clearing a sublet situation with the real estate property management companies or landlord in advance helps prevent issues that may arise, such as nonpayment of rent or property damage caused by the sub letter. Avoid problems altogether by reading the sublease conditions of your lease before you sign if you think you might want to consider such an arrangement after moving in.
  1. Request copies of paperwork.It’s important to request copies of your signed lease agreement to have for your own records. If you sign your lease documentation online, make sure the leasing manager makes the documents available to you so you can download and save the electronic file.
  1. Property condition documentation.You wouldn’t rent a car without documentation of existing damage clearly defined in the rental contract. Renting an apartment should be no different. Make sure any existing issues—a chip in a cabinet, for instance, or a damaged or missing closet door—are photographed, described, and included in the lease before you sign. Ideally, these issues should be corrected before you move in, but it’s up to you if you don’t want to wait or if the property owner is unwilling to make the fixes and you’re willing to rent the apartment anyway.

Most home buyers get a professional to come in and conduct an inspection before they buy, but this doesn’t occur to many renters. Few renters are willing to shell out several hundred dollars to inspect a building they expect to live in for a few years, but you shouldn’t assume that inspecting the unit is unnecessary. Even if you conduct the inspection yourself, you should approach the effort as seriously as you would if you were buying the property.

There are two important reasons for conducting an inspection of a rental unit:

  • To make sure everything works
  • To establish and document any pre-existing damage so you won’t be charged for it later

What Else Should Real Estate Property Management Companies Do?

The property manager or landlord can provide you with a list of component elements in each room of the house or apartment. The list should be itemized with elements such as carpeting, electrical outlets, light fixtures, doors/locks, windows/locks, and even paint and wallcovering. The kitchen should also list appliances and other elements while the bathrooms itemize the sink, toilet, tub, and shower.

If you’re doing the inspection yourself, make sure that each of these elements is in good condition, and in good working order.  Report any problems you discover to the property manager or landlord and do not sign a lease until they are repaired, and you’re satisfied with everything. If there are any elements that the property owner cannot fix and you’re willing to move in any way, make sure the damaged or non-working elements are photographed and described in your lease agreement before signing so you’re not held responsible when you move out.

If the real estate property management companies or landlord does not provide you with a list of component elements, you’ll need to create one and complete it yourself. Make sure any deficiency in the property is listed prior to signing the lease.