A lease is a legal agreement between you and the person (or company) from whom you rent. Leases obligate you and your landlord to particular commitments.
The most important obligation of your lease is the length of your stay. When you sign a lease, you agree to rent the apartment for a certain period of time. This means that you must pay the rent on the apartment for the entire time of your lease. Apartment leases typically last for one year.
Your lease obligation applies whether you live in the apartment or not. If you choose to leave before your lease is up, your landlord may legally collect the rent you owe for the time remaining on your lease. So, before you sign, be very sure that you can meet the terms of your rental agreement.
- Short-term lease: A short-term lease will normally state a fixed monthly rental rate for the entire duration of the lease. So if you know you are planning to stay in the apartment or house for the entire school year, it's probably best to get a short-term lease for the entire nine months. However, signing a short-term lease means that you are obligating yourself to pay the full amount. So if you sign a nine-month lease at $600 per month, you are obligated to pay the entire $5,400 amount, whether or not you stay for the entire time.
- Month-to-month lease: With a month-to-month lease, your rental price is subject to change at any time (as long as your landlord provides you the appropriate notice as defined in your lease). For this reason, students often opt for short-term leases. But if you are unsure about how long you will occupy the rental unit, a month-to-month lease may be the best option. With a month-to-month lease, you agree to rent for a month at a time. Usually the lease renews automatically-unless it is canceled by you or your landlord (normally with one month's notice). A month-to-month lease does not obligate you for the long-term. You won't be locked in to six or nine months of payment if you are no longer living in the unit.
- Subleasing: If you sublease (sometimes called sublet) an apartment or house, you are renting a property under an original lease that someone else holds. You normally work out the arrangements with the original tenant rather than the landlord, although the landlord will often want to run a credit check on you before agreeing to the sublease. If you are going to sublease, ask for written consent from the landlord allowing you to live in the apartment or house for the duration of your agreement with the original leaseholder.
Why sublease? You may find good deals. If you are looking for housing only during the summer months, or during a period when the original tenant will be gone for a few months (to study abroad perhaps), the original tenant may be willing to negotiate the rent in order to keep the lease and have a place to return to after the summer or study abroad program. It's worth asking!