When a landlord or management company approves your application, they will move forward with a lease signing. If you’re working with an agent, they will acquire the lease from the owner and guide you thorugh the signing process, either digitally or in person. You will also be responsible for paying all fees to the landlord and agent at this time.

What is a lease?

A lease is a written agreement between a landlord and tenants in a unit that obligates the tenant to pay rent for the duration of the lease term. The standard lease term lasts for one year, but you may have a lease with a longer or shorter term. The agreement also holds the landlord to the obligation that they cannot raise the rent during the term or evict a tenant unless for extenuating circumstances like failing to pay rent or violations, etc.

Many New York City apartments offer a standard lease with disclosure forms that provide information about lead-based paint usage, bed bugs, sprinklers, window guards, etc. You should review the forms to ensure you agree with all of the stated information and ask for clarification if needed.

A lease may also have a rider, which is a supplementary document added to a lease to provide guidelines for issues such as rent stabilization, pets, quiet hours, trash regulation, etc. While the standard lease applies to most rental situations in New York City, the rider is the owner’s chance to add any additional rules and directions specific to their building.

Once you sign your lease, you are legally bound to pay rent for the term of the lease. This holds true whether or not you maintain residency, with a couple of exceptions:

  • Landlord does not fix major repairs,
  • Improper heating or hot water in the building,
  • Presence of lead-based paint, mold, rodent infestation (mice, rats, cockroaches),
  • Lack of window guards in units that require them,
  • You become subject to harassment by the owner or the owner’s employees.

According to New York City’s Housing Preservation & Development ABC’s of Housing Guide, tenants must report the above issues before withholding rent. If you already bring the problem to your landlord or management company and they fail to respond and address the issue, you can then file a complaint with HPD by calling 311.

How to sign a lease

An agent or owner should send the renter the lease and provide them with enough time to ask questions before they sign. You should read through the entire lease and then ask any clarifying questions before they sign any part of the document.

You should also review the following details to make sure they align with what you discussed with the agent or owner:

  • Date of when the lease starts and ends
  • What renewal options are available, and how to renew at the end of the lease
  • The correct amount of monthly rent
  • The day of the month that rent is due and instructions on how to pay the rent
  • The contact information for the landlord (name, address and telephone number)
  • What utilities are included or not included
  • Building rules
  • A rent-stabilization rider (if renting from a rent-stabilized apartment)
  • Any oral agreements made with the landlord
  • The names for all parties involved are listed and correct

Once you read through the lease and receive answers to all of their questions, you can go ahead and sign. After signing, make sure to receive a copy of the lease for your records. If you sign online, you should automatically receive an executed copy of the lease once all parties finish signing.

Fees to pay before moving in

When you sign the lease, you will also have to pay to acquire the apartment. This includes paying for the first month’s rent and may also include a security deposit and a broker’s fee.

Many buildings require that their tenants pay a security deposit at the time of acquiring the apartment. The security deposit cannot exceed the cost of one month’s rent, and the purpose of the deposit is for the landlord to use the money should the tenant not pay rent. The landlord retains the deposit until the end of the tenant’s lease and must return it within fourteen days. Click here to learn more about how to get a security deposit back. The landlord can retain part of the security deposit for costs to repair the above-normal wear and tear to the unit that a tenant may cause during their lease duration.

If you rented a unit with a broker’s fee, you would also pay the fee to the agent at this time.

You will usually pay the first month’s rent and security deposit in one payment, usually through a cashier’s check. A cashier’s check differs from a standard check, proving to the landlord that the tenant has the money in their account. You must specifically ask for a cashier’s check at the bank. Note that roommates may have to pay the entire security deposit and first month’s rent in one check, meaning it comes from one person’s account. Roommates should therefore send their share of the deposit and rent to that one roommate before they go to the bank to collect the cashier’s check.

Pro-rated rent

While many renters move into an apartment on the first day of the month, some may move in on other days. If this is the case for your apartment, you should not have to pay for a full month’s worth of rent and will instead pay a pro-rated amount of rent. The pro-rated amount will be specified in the lease, so be sure to double-check the amount before signing.

To calculate the amount of rent they will pay, you can divide the total cost of one month’s rent by the number of days in that month, then multiply that amount by the total number of days you will spend in the apartment for that month.

For example, someone who moves into an apartment with a monthly rent of $2,000 on November 15th should only pay $1,000 for that month.