Before You Sign a Lease

What is a Lease?

A lease is a legal agreement establishing a landlord/tenant relationship. It is a binding document that you cannot break. Finding a less expensive apartment later, or deciding not to come to Yale are not valid reasons for breaking a lease.


  • Once you sign a lease you cannot break it.
  • Make sure all agreements you make with the landlord are in writing on the lease. If not, don’t expect it to happen.
  • You and the landlord can change the lease - you both need to initial it after the change.
  • Make sure you get a copy of the signed, adjusted lease and that you make a copy for each tenant on the lease.
  • Make sure all numbers add up correctly
  • If furniture is included, make sure it is listed in the lease. Each landlord has a different process. Generally, you can expect to pay upfront your first month’s rent, last month’s rent and security deposit (which, by law, should not equal anything more than two month’s rent)
  • Some landlords have you pay all summer months in advance. For example, if your lease begins in August, you may have to pay first months rent (August), security deposit and last 2 months rent (June and July).

Before Signing a Lease

Before signing anything, make sure you understand and agree to it, and that it states everything to which you have agreed. It is a good idea to do a “walk through” with the landlord to determine the condition of the living area, and to note in writing, any dings, holes, or repairs that need to be made. This will assist you when you move out, because damages not noted at the time of move-in may be charged against your security deposit.

  • Speak to current tenants who rent the unit you will be renting.
  • Speak to other tenants within the building.
  • Ask those tenants the following questions (preferably when the landlord is not present):
    • Does the landlord respect your privacy - meaning do they give advance notice before entering?
    • Was the apartment/house clean when you moved in?
    • Does the landlord respond to requests/concerns/repairs in a timely fashion?
    • Did you have any problems with the rental unit and/or property owner?

Security Deposit Information

  • By state law, the security deposit may not be any more than two months’ rent; however, if the tenant is 62 years old or older, it may not be more than one month’s rent.
  • The deposit is held by the landlord on behalf of the tenant; the landlord merely has a security interest in the funds.
  • The landlord is required by law to put the full amount of the security deposit into an escrow account where it will earn annual interest at a rate set by the Banking Commissioner.
  • The tenant is entitled to the interest for all months in which the rent is paid on time (within the applicable grace period). With certain exceptions, the tenant will not receive interest for any months in which the rent was paid after the grace period. A landlord who fails to pay the interest due on the security deposit may be sued for the amount or may be subject to a fine.
  • Protect your security deposit! When you move in, you should do a written inspection of the premises (ideally this should be done with your landlord). On that sheet, you should include any marks on the walls, spots on the rugs, floors and counter tops; also note whether the unit was clean or dirty when you moved in, and the condition of the furniture (if furnished). Don’t neglect to check out things that might not be readily apparent, such as water pressure, sink drainage, and the condition of pads under the carpet. You and your landlord should both sign the checklist after completing it and both you and your landlord should receive a copy. This will protect your security deposit so that when you move out, you will have proof in case your landlord charges you for damages that existed prior to your arrival.
  • According to Connecticut state law, landlords are required to return a tenant’s security deposit 30 days (or within 15 days of receiving the tenant’s forwarding address—whichever is later) after the tenant leaves.

Jointly or Individually Bound

All parties that sign the lease are equally responsible for the entire rent as well as individually—if one tenant can’t pay a share of the rent in a particular month, or simply moves out, the other tenant(s) must still pay the full rent. For example, Bob, Mary and Josh all live together and the rent is $1800 a month ($600 per person). Bob decides not to return to Yale in the fall. Mary and Josh are legally responsible for the $1800 and the landlord/lady has the right to pursue the rent from them. Although Bob is responsible for his share, the property owner will pursue the tenants living in the unit as they are easier to pursue. Josh and Mary can then sue Bob for his portion of the rent if he does not pay, but they need to sue Bob where he currently lives.

Length of Lease: Some Issues to Consider

  • Is the lease for 12 months, or an academic year (i.e. 9 months)?
  • If it is for 12 months, will you be here in the summer?
  • What are the penalties that incur if you move out before the end of your lease? Some landlords require that you forgo your security deposit, or that you find a replacement for your apartment/room/house.
  • Does your lease give you permission to sublet?
  • If your lease begins in June, and you sublet, who will do the move-in inspection? You are responsible for the actions of your sublettors. Therefore, if your sublettor destroys the apartment/unit, you will be held responsible by your landlord.

Danger Clauses in a Lease

Leases are legal documents concerning the rental of property. They are binding agreements which you cannot cancel after it is signed. Certain lease clauses can cause problems if enforced word for word. You should be cautious about signing; attempt to renegotiate the terms, or at least ask for an explanation if any of these or similar provisions appear in your lease.

Look for and recognize these “danger clauses” and have them removed or altered, if possible:

The Landlord:

  • Is not liable for repairs
  • Is permitted to cancel the lease if the property is sold
  • Has the right to enter your residence at any time, even when it’s not an emergency
  • May show the premises to prospective buyers or renters at any time, rather than a specific time and/or advance notice
  • Has the right to cancel the lease if “your behavior is immoral”

The Tenant:

  • Accepts the premises in “as is” condition at signing
  • Agrees no one else will live with you
  • Is forbidden to have overnight guests
  • Agrees to extra, unspecified rent or other unknown charges
  • Agrees to obey rules not in the lease
  • Loses their tenancy if gone for any length of time
  • Waives their right to sue
  • Agrees that improvements belong to the landlord
  • Landlord is never liable if tenant is injured or sustains property damage
  • Waiver or your right to a jury trial

After reading the entire lease, you should discuss with the landlord clauses you want removed, altered or included. For example, if you expect the landlord to paint the apartment before you move in, be sure such a clause is in the lease. All agreed changes should be in writing and initialed by both you and your landlord on all copies. Each person signing the lease should keep a copy.

Other precautions concerning leases:

  • If there are rules or other provisions from another document included as part of the lease, know what these are and keep a copy
  • Don’t assume a landlord will not enforce all the lease provisions
  • Be aware that oral additions to a written lease are generally not binding
  • Find out the approximate cost of utilities for which you pay - heat, electricity, gas, cable, internet, phone, water, sewer, and garbage.
  • If there is a provision about renewal deadlines, make sure the timeline is reasonable (usually 30-90 days before the lease ends).

Provisions your Lease Should Include

A lease is one of the most important documents a tenant signs, but probably the least read or understood. A tenant’s happiness and satisfaction is dependent upon their rental housing situation and the lease they sign. The lease, a legal document, spells out both the tenants’ and landlords’ rights and responsibilities. Many tenants do not take the time to read the lease or may not understand the terms and conditions. A lawyer should be consulted if any terms or provisions are in question.

The following list includes the obvious and the not-so-obvious terms a lease should contain:

  • The date of the signing
  • The complete names of the landlord and the tenant(s)
  • The location of the rental unit, including the apartment identification
  • Length of the lease term, including both the beginning and ending dates

The Rent

  • The amount due each month
  • When and where rent is due
  • The penalty for any late payment of rent
  • What utilities, if any, are included in the rent price
  • Any extra charges that may be incurred (i.e. parking, storage)
  • Who pays for repairs and maintenance, including damage as a result of negligence


  • The amount due
  • What it covers
  • When your deposit will be returned
  • The conditions for refund
  • The provision for payment of interest

Other provisions

  • Are multiple leases jointly or separately obligated? (If tenants are “jointly or severally” responsible for payment of rent, any one person may be responsible for the total rent)
  • When will the landlord enter the unit?
  • Rules such as pets and guests, including a full description of pets allowed
  • Limit on number of occupants, if any
  • Furnished or unfurnished (if furnished, lease should list everything provided)
  • Renewal option available?

Changes in a lease should be initialed on all copies and each party should receive a final copy of the lease.

Rights and Responsibilities

Visit the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch website for more information.

An online handbook published by the state of Connecticut. You can learn about your basic rights as a tenant or landlord, as well as the different legal services available in the state.

Living City Initiatives

The Livable City Initiative is a neighborhood focused agency whose primary mission is to enhance the experience of the individuals who live and work in the City of New Haven. The agency seeks to accomplish this mission through:

  • Enforcement of the city’s housing code and public space requirements.
  • Design and implementation of housing programs to support high quality, affordable, and energy efficient housing opportunities.
  • Educating and increasing awareness on solutions for neighborhood concerns.
  • Design and implementation of public improvements and programs to facilitate safer, healthier, and more attractive communities.
  • Common Violations and Required Remediation (Housing Code Enforcement) - List of violations and actions required.

The mission and vision of LCI is achieved by encouraging the involvement of other city agencies, the public and enterprise. Through the cooperative efforts of the private sector, the Livable City Initiative will create an atmosphere of a vibrant exciting city.

Renter Guide

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