Rental Guide

Sign a Lease

Sign a lease

A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant which contains the terms and conditions of the rental. It cannot be changed while it is in effect unless both parties agree. A party must sign the lease in order to be bound by its terms. Any changes to the lease must be signed by both parties. All agreements made between the tenant and the landlord must be contained in the lease, as verbal agreements are not enforceable. The lease must be written in English. Read it carefully. It is written in favor of the landlord, since it is the landlord that serves the lease. If any clause in the lease is contrary to your rights as a tenant, then the clause is not enforceable by the landlord. If you requested any repairs, replacement of appliances or painting of the apartment before move-in, it needs to be stated in the lease.

There are many types of lease agreements and the type of lease presented to you will vary depending on the situation with the apartment that you are renting. Although most lease agreements are standard forms, in many instances clauses or riders may be added to the lease that supersede or alter the lease agreement in some way. Some examples of types of lease are a “Standard Form of Lease”, a “Rent Stabilized Lease Agreement” and a “Co-operative Sublease Agreement”. Landlords in New York City are required to have you sign Riders to the Lease regarding window guards, lead-based paint, and bedbugs only if there has been a report of bedbugs in the building within the last 12 months.

All monies (first month’s rent, security deposit and broker’s fee, if applicable) are due at lease signing. Landlords usually require certified checks, but if the money is electronically transferred, be sure it is to a U.S. account. Also, you will need to bring proof of identity with you (driver’s license, passport, etc.).

Check the following:

  • Does the lease state the correct rent, address and landlord?
  • Are all the people responsible for paying the rent listed on the lease?
  • Does the lease mention all of the amenities agreed upon?
  • Check the lease to find out the due date of the rent each month.
  • Check to see if utilities are billed separately or are included in your monthly rent.
  • Are there any special building rules? Find out if your new building is pet-friendly, has limits on guests, etc.
  • What happens at the end of the lease term? Can you renew automatically? What happens if you break the lease? Can you sublet or assign (transfer) the lease?
  • If you are signing a lease with a roommate, make sure both of your names are on the lease in order for both parties to have rights to the apartment.
  • Check due dates of the rent, the duration or term of the rental, the conditions of occupancy, and the rights and obligations of both parties. 
  • If you want the landlord to repaint the apartment, have it stated in the lease.
  • If you would like to be able to paint the apartment yourself, or add wallpaper, or any other permanent addition to the apartment, make sure you are allowed to do this. Otherwise the landlord will require you to return the apartment to the original state upon expiration of the lease.

The following lease provisions are void:

  • Exempting landlords from liability for injuries to persons or property caused by the landlord’s negligence, or that of the landlord’s employees or agents.
  • Waiving the tenant’s right to a jury trial in any lawsuit brought by either of the parties against the other for personal injury or property damage. 
  • Requiring tenants to pledge their household furniture as security for rent.

When renting a house or townhouse, the lease should be explicit about who is responsible for the maintenance of the property, and who pays for any repairs (i.e. snow removal, lawn mowing, plumber, etc.).

If any of the clauses in the lease are contrary to any governing laws (city, county, state or federal), the law prevails.  Please refer to the Tenant’s Rights Guide, published by the New York State Attorney General, for questions regarding specific conditions.

Check Section 8 for more information about tenant’s rights.

Diplomatic clause

An early termination clause in a lease is usually referred to as a “diplomatic clause”. Usually landlords will not agree to add a diplomatic clause during the first 12 months of a lease, but may agree to add it for subsequent lease renewals or, if it is a 24 month lease, it can be implemented after the first 12 months of the lease.  An example of a diplomatic clause is: “The tenant has the option to terminate the lease with sixty (60) days written notice to the landlord.”

Security Deposits

Virtually all leases require tenants to give their landlords a security deposit. The security deposit is usually one month’s rent. If a lease is renewed at a greater amount or the rent is increased during the term of the lease, the owner is permitted to collect additional money from the tenant in order to bring the security deposit up to the new monthly rent. A landlord may use the security deposit as a reimbursement for the reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear if the tenant damages the apartment, or as reimbursement for any unpaid rent. The landlord must return the security deposit, less any lawful deduction, to the tenant at the end of the lease or within a reasonable time thereafter, usually within 60 days after lease termination.

Landlords, regardless of the number of units in the building, must treat the deposits as trust funds belonging to their tenants and they may not commingle deposits with their own money. Landlords of buildings with six or more apartments must put all security deposits in New York bank accounts earning interest at the prevailing rate. Each tenant must be informed in writing of the bank’s name and address and the amount of the deposit.

Landlords are entitled to collect annual administrative expenses of one percent of the deposit. All other interest earned on the deposits belongs to the tenants. Tenants must be given the option of having this interest paid to them annually, applied to rent, or paid at the end of the lease term. If the building has fewer than six apartments, a landlord who voluntarily places the security deposits in an interest bearing bank account must also follow these rules.