Read This Before You Sign a Lease
Read the lease and understand it:
There is no such thing as a standard lease. If you don't understand a clause, don't sign the lease until you do.
Know the duration:
Don't sign a year lease if you plan on staying for nine months. Negotiate with your landlord for a shorter term. Don't expect to be able to sublet.
Know your roommates:
If you sign a lease with others, you are liable to your landlord for your roommate's share of the rent. Make sure your roommates are reliable and intend to stay for the entire term. Get your understanding with your roommates in writing regardless of how well you know each other. Better yet, see if your landlord will sign individual leases with each tenant.
Make sure the landlord is responsible for repairs:
A landlord only has to make repairs if the lease makes him/her responsible. If your lease doesn't have a clause like this, ADD IT AND HAVE THE LANDLORD INITIAL IT. (e.g. Landlord is responsible for repairs required to bring the premises in compliance with the Housing Code and put furnished appliances in working order.)
Don't rely on oral promises:
If your landlord promises to do things to your apartment such as paint it, repair it, or carpet it, GET IT IN WRITING before the lease is signed. If the landlord is sincere about the promise, he/she shouldn't object to writing it down. So your understanding is clear, specify the date the repair or improvement is to be completed. If your landlord says he/she won't hold you to a certain clause in the lease, CROSS IT OUT AND INITIAL IT.
Things are negotiable:
Renters have some bargaining power. If the rent is high or the house is in disrepair and there are certain things you want included in or excluded from the lease, DISCUSS THESE POINTS with your landlord. If you agree on changes put them in writing on the lease. Changes on preprinted forms are made by simply crossing out, adding on and having all parties initial the change.