Signing a Lease and Moving In

What Is a Lease?

A lease is an agreement between a landlord and a tenant that sets the expectations and length for the rental term. Your lease agreement may be written or oral (verbal). A written lease is usually preferred, because it is more enforceable. This helps protect both landlords and tenants in the event of a disagreement.

Why It's Important to Read the Lease

As a renter, it is very important to read and understand a lease before you sign it. Once you sign the lease, it is legally binding.

Your landlord should not ask you to sign a lease that violates the Fair Housing Act or your rights as a tenant in New York State. Be on the lookout for statements like these:

  • "This property is being rented as-is."
  • "You are not allowed to bring any children into the unit."
  • "I waive my rights as a tenant."
  • "All housing complaints should be made to the landlord. Reporting a complaint to any other source may result in penalties to you."
  • "If I do not pay rent, my landlord can lock me out after one week."

If you encounter statements like these in a potential lease document, you can try bringing them up with your prospective landlord. It is possible they downloaded a lease online, and did not realize their mistake. If the landlord does not change the document, you may wish to consider whether you truly want to rent from this person.

Reading and understanding your lease can help prevent you from running into problems - you could be violating the lease without even knowing it. In addition, if you have questions during your rental term, you can frequently find the answers outlined in your lease document.

Lease Questions to Answer 

Before you sign a lease, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. When does my lease end?
  2. When is the rent due?
  3. Where and how do I pay rent?
  4. Is there a late rent fee? What is it?
  5. What is the security deposit amount?
  6. Which utilities am I responsible for?
  7. What are the policies for visitors and guests?
  8. What happens if I need to move out before the lease is up?
  9. How should my apartment look when I move out?
  10. Can I have a pet?
  11. How do I request repairs/maintenance?
  12. When is the landlord allowed to enter the apartment? 

Documentation and Record-Keeping

Part of being a successful renter is keeping important documents in a safe place. These documents will be very important in the event of any disagreements with your landlord. Unfortunately, situations do sometimes arise that may prompt you or your landlord to take legal action - keeping good records will help to ensure that you are protected.

Types of Records to Keep

You may wish to maintain the following rental documents:

  • Copy of your rental application
  • Copy of signed lease agreement
  • Photos of unit from when you moved in
  • Utility statements
  • Written repair requests *
  • End of tenancy notice *
  • Rental condition checklist *
  • Rent receipts *
  • Copies of any written communications
  • Renter's insurance policy

* For your convenience, you may download blank copies of these documents at the top of this page.

What Is a Rent Receipt?

A rent receipt is a document that provides proof of rent paid by a renter to a property manager. In New York State, tenants have the right to request a written rent receipt from their landlord at any time. Once you have asked for a rent receipt once, your landlord must continue to give you a receipt every time you pay rent for the duration of your lease. Keep your receipts to prove residency and rent paid on the unit.

A rent receipt should include the following information:

  • The date rent was paid
  • The amount of rent paid
  • The address of the rental unit
  • The time period for which the rent was paid
  • The signature and title of the person receiving the rent
  • The name of the person paying the rent

What Is a Rental Condition Checklist?

Before you move in, you and your landlord should complete a detailed walk-through inspection of the property. You can use a rental condition checklist to help you evaluate the condition of the unit. You can download a blank copy of a rental condition checklist at the top of this page.

Each adult tenant living in the unit should complete, sign, and date a rental condition checklist before moving in. This alerts the landlord to any deficiencies or damages that need to be addressed. It also helps make sure you can get your security deposit back when you move out, because you will be able to prove that those conditions are not your fault.

Tips for Completing a Rental Condition Checklist

  • When you complete your rental condition checklist, take pictures of any damages to the unit. 
  • Add a timestamp to the photos, or print them out and write the date on the back. Keep these photos with your completed rental condition checklist.

Moving Out Checklist

Preparing for a move? Use this checklist to help things go smoothly. A printable version is available at the top of this page.

  1. Notify your current landlord of the date you will move out. 
  2. Collect clean boxes or containers for your upcoming move. Don't bring pests along!
  3. Share your new address with anyone who needs to know. This may include: 
    • Your current landlord (so they can return your security deposit)
    • Friends and family
    • Your employer
    • Your bank and credit card company
    • Your utility service providers
    • Any subscriptions you use
  4. Complete a change of address form with the United States Postal Office. You can also complete this form for free at USPS locations. 
  5. Contact your utility provider and/or your landlord about starting and stopping service. If you use National Grid, you can request a service disconnect or transfer online. 
  6. Perform any minor repairs that may help you get your deposit back. These might include: 
    • Patching and painting over small holes in the drywall
    • Replacing any knobs or fixtures you swapped out
    • Replacing burnt-out lightbulbs
    • Replacing smoke detector batteries
  7. Clean the unit thoroughly. Don't forget to clean:
    • Bathrooms
    • Bedrooms
    • Kitchen
    • Other living spaces
    • Patio or balcony
    • Appliances (e.g. fridge, oven)
      • Many landlords require tenants to defrost the freezer.
  8. Give the unit a final once-over before you move out. Did you forget any belongings? Forget to clean something?
  9. Complete a final walkthrough inspection with your landlord. Ask them to point out any damages they plan on deducting from your deposit. 
    • Under New York State law, your landlord MUST complete a walkthrough with you if you ask. They also must give you a chance to repair any damages before deducting them from your deposit. 
  10. Return your keys to the landlord.