April 18, 2024


Mad about real estate

Tips on How to Sign a Residential Lease

As a premier real estate and business law lawyer at the Law Office of Christopher W. Shelburn, PLLC, Chris Shelburn says the biggest trouble with leases comes up when people don’t read them closely. That is why Shelburn recommends checking all of the terms before signing a lease, and making sure details such as move out conditions, cleaning regulations, and security deposit rules are all explained clearly.


Because the majority of leases in use today are fairly standard, it is a rarity that a tenant is able to change the terms. Beyond the length of the lease or the deposit amount, the majority of the terms in leases are pretty statutory and established, as far as what the landlord is responsible for. Nonetheless, I recommend that renters in Charlotte, NC, contact a local attorney to have a look at their leases if anything seems strange, or if there are any provisions that make the tenant responsible for repairs.

Clarifying the Terms

In my experience, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they sign apartment leases is to not clarify the terms as far as move out is concerned. Details like what condition the residence needs to be in during the move out can be critical, especially if those terms are not met. Additionally, renters should be aware of when they can expect to receive their deposits back, since that can vary from landlord to landlord. The tenant needs to know his rights for getting back the security deposit, versus the landlord keeping it.

Another aspect of the lease that can oftentimes become a point of contention is late penalty fees. If a tenant pays rent late, how much of a fee is applied? And when, exactly, does the rent become past due? Leases should clearly lay these details out for the tenant to read and sign.

When it comes to the condition of the property, the terms of the contract should ideally bind the landlord and specify who is responsible for making which types of fixes and repairs. The lease should also include details as to how long the landlord has to complete certain repairs before rent abatements or discounts can be assessed.

Reading the Lease Closely

While most landlord/tenant disputes that I handle involve contract violations, the contract or lease itself usually isn’t the problem. The problems arise when one party does something that he is not supposed to do. Anyone who is moving into a new apartment or home should make sure that his lease doesn’t prohibit anything that he plans to do in his home, such as grow a garden, paint the walls, or install a satellite on the balcony. Minor changes can often be made to leases in order to get the contracts signed; however, I advise reading closely to ensure that you won’t be violating any terms of the contract that could lead to an eviction. If there is anything that you don’t think you can abide by, then you should talk to the landlord and question it further.

A lot of lease disputes arise when one party breaks the lease or the terms of the lease, which is why I recommend that my clients read these points in their contracts very closely. Some leases do allow people to get out at certain points—either before the lease is over or once the lease ends—but renters should not make assumptions about this factor without reading the fine print. It is important that renters know which notification requirements they must fulfill in order to let their landlords know that they will be moving out of their properties as well.

If you are signing a lease and you know that you will not be around for the entire lease period, then you should check with the landlord before signing anything to find out what the penalties will be for breaking the lease. In the worst-case scenario, you would be stuck paying rent for the duration of the agreed lease period, even if you move out of the apartment after just two or three months.

Remember, it makes sense to have a lawyer take a look at any lease you sign just to make sure nothing is out of whack. Minor details such as move-in and move-out dates, repair responsibilities, and deposit charges can all be looked into and may be able to be amended or changed if necessary.

This article is for informational purposes only.  You should not rely on this article as a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances, and you should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.  Publication of this article and your receipt of this article does not create an attorney-client relationship.