A lease is a legally binding document that contains the agreement between a landlord and a tenant, including details about the length of the rental period, the amount and payment schedule of the rent, maintenance of the unit, pets, utilities, and any other legally allowed terms or conditions the landlord chooses to add. Reading and understanding your lease is the best way to protect your rights as a tenant.
The following is a summary of the major components that you will see in most rental agreements.
- Information about the unit, lessor, and lessee:
Usually apartment leases include basic information about the unit – including address and sometimes a brief description – as well as the names, contact information, and other details of the tenant(s) and the landlord. All adults who will live in the unit should be listed on the lease.
- Lease term:
This section includes the dates on which the lease will start and end, and possibly renewal and termination details.
This part of the lease agreement states the amount and due date of rental payments, along with the penalty for late payments.
- Fees and Deposits:
In this section the landlord details any deposits or fees such as security deposits, pet deposits, and other charges.
- Rules and Regulations:
There are some rules and regulations that the tenant should follow during his/her tenancy. This part of a lease agreement states specific regulations, including rules regarding pets, guests, modifications to the unit, and so on.
- Access to Premises:
Your landlord may need to access the property for repairs, inspections, and to show the unit to potential tenants or buyers. This section regulates when a landlord may enter the unit as well as the type of notification required.
- Other Lease Details:
There are often separate clauses regulating repairs, utilities, renter’s insurance (if offered or required), and so on.
You may wish to invest in a renter’s insurance policy to cover your belongings in the case of theft, weather damage, or other incidents. The landlord’s insurance policy will typically cover only the building itself, so in the case of water damage, a power surge, or a break-in, they will not cover any loss or damage to your possessions. Renter’s insurance may also provide you protection in the case that someone is injured in your apartment. You can comparison shop and sign up for renter’s insurance through a wide range of websites. After shopping around, it’s a good idea to sign up through the specific insurance company’s own website. Below are a few major U.S. insurance companies which offer this type of coverage.
Please note that the university does not endorse or promote any specific non-university company, vendor, or agent; the third-party companies mentioned here are offered for informational purposes only.
Setting up Utilities
Be sure that any utilities that are included in your rent are expressly noted on the lease agreement. The most commonly included utilities are water and heat, although wide variation is possible. In most, but not all, cases, you will need to establish your own accounts with the utility companies for electricity, natural gas, and any additional services you want.
Typically, the landlord will – or can on request – provide you with a list of the names and contact information for the utility companies that provide service to the building or the area. Call each of them a week or more prior to your move in date to allow the provider time to create an account for you, and if necessary to schedule an appointment to visit the premises.
Students who do not yet have a Social Security Number (SSN) should visit this page on our Office of International Affairs site for more information on setting up utilities without this identification number.
Electricity and Natural Gas
When planning ahead for utility costs, be sure to ask the landlord or prior tenant for monthly estimates for electricity and/or gas. Don’t forget to take account of Chicago’s weather: if it’s not included, home heating can be a major expense in the winter, and most apartments do not have air conditioning – installing a window unit during the summer months might require a surcharge, and most certainly will raise your electricity bill noticeably. Most appliances other than the stove/oven (range) run on electricity; most stoves/ranges and sometimes the heat will usually be run by natural gas.
It is uncommon for apartment buildings to include internet or cable television access as part of the lease/rental agreement. Telephone service never is. Depending upon where you live, you may have multiple or only one service option for cable television or telephone. Check with your landlord or the companies you are interested in, or ask other tenants in the building. Many providers are available for mobile (cellular) phone service.
Breaking, Subleasing, and Assigning a Lease
Once signed, the lease is a legally binding contract, and there are often significant costs, fees, and paperwork involved in the event you attempt to break your lease. If you attempt to break your lease or abandon the unit without the landlord’s agreement, you are still liable for your rent through the remaining term of your lease. To avoid this situation, it is best to work with your landlord to find another qualified tenant for the apartment. There are two options for this, subletting and re-renting.
You find someone to take over the apartment, and the rent, from you until the end of the lease. The original lease will remain your responsibility until the end of the lease term – that is, you would still be liable if the person you sublet to did not pay rent, or damaged the apartment.
Less commonly, you may arrange with the landlord to release you from your lease obligations. You and the landlord still need to find someone to rent your apartment, and they may be more open to this if you have someone interested in the unit. This option is less risky, but your landlord can charge you a fee for re-renting as well as any expenses spent during his/her search for a new tenant.
In addition, you may wish to sublease your apartment in the event you plan to travel for an extended period during the term of your lease. As noted above, in the event you do wish to sublet your apartment, even if only for a portion of the term of your lease, you will need you landlord’s prior written consent. In addition, you will remain responsible for any apartment damage or any rent not paid by your subtenant, so please choose any subtenant carefully.