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 if they fail to pay. 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 you understand who is responsible for repairs:
A landlord only has to make repairs if the lease makes him/her responsible for them. If your lease doesn't have a clause like this, discuss adding one with your landlord. Such a clause should make it clear who is paying for what type of repairs. Cosmetic repairs and appliance repairs may be handled differently from repairs that are necessary to comply with rental licensing codes,
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 by. 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 and have all parties initial the change. Changes or additions to the lease terms can be made at any time during the lease term but only if all parties agree, and assuming these changes are legal.