Prerequisites For Signing a Rental or Lease Agreement With Your Landlord





signing rental lease agreement
Photo by Mari Helin on Unsplash

Signing a rental or lease agreement by yourself or with your roommate can be serious business. It’s a legally binding contract between you and your landlord. If you have roommates, they’re most likely going to sign the rental agreement with you as another co-tenant unless other arrangements are made.

Below, we’re going to review what general prerequisites are required before a rental agreement can be signed.

Before we start, keep in mind that the requirements of what is needed will be different from state to state and even the city you live in. So don’t rely on this information 100%, just use it as a reference so you are not surprised if and when your future landlord asks for it.

Most Rental Agreement Prerequisites include:

  • A Competed Rental Application
  • A Credit Report
  • A Criminal Background Check
  • Personal References
  • Employment & Income Verification

It’s perfectly reasonable for landlords to request some personal information from you before making a rental agreement. This information will be provided to them with the rental application and any other authorization forms you sign.

If the landlord is not asking you for information, I’d have a big question mark about them and presume that the place they are renting is not legitimate. You may even consider walking away from it.

Something else to think about when a landlord does not ask you for personal information to set up a rental agreement: Who wants to pay for moving expenses to relocate to a place that has no real agreement about staying there for an extended period of time? 

Before we start you need to know that I’m not a lawyer, please review my legal disclaimer below!

Warning and Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer, so I cannot offer you any legal advice on reviewing agreements or contracts. But I am going to provide you with some brief tips on things you should consider before signing your name to these documents.

Let’s Begin!

1) You Should Complete a Rental Application

Filling out a rental application is absolutely required for anyone signing a lease or month-to-month rental agreement with the landlord. Any roommates you plan on moving in with you will most likely be required to complete a rental application as well.

The rental application will ask you for similar information as a job application would, such as:

  • Your Full Name
  • Current Address
  • Social Security Number
  • Previous Rental History
  • Emergency Contact Information
  • Other Misc Information

2) A Credit Check Will Be Requested

No landlord or homeowner is going to rent to you if your credit is bad or you have a history of missing mortgage payments or not paying rent. A landlord’s worst nightmare is having to evict a tenant for non-payment of rent.

Before applying for any kind of credit check with a rental application I highly recommend you use Credit Karma to get your free credit score and Annual Credit Report to get a free copy of your credit report.

Suppose you notice anything that is bad on your credit like a late payment. It’s a good idea to provide a written letter of explanation about the item with your rental application. This will show good merit on your part and help the landlord see past it when they see it on the credit report they pull.

3) A Criminal Background Check Will Be Completed

Landlords will normally run criminal background checks with a third-party company called a “Tenant Screening Service.” Note: This may actually be included with the credit check depending on the company they use.

If you know you might have something negative on a criminal background check it will look really good if you disclose it up front with your application.

Provide a letter of explanation to the landlord so they have a better understanding of what might be found.

4) A Reference Check Is Normally Required

The references that will be requested are usually from old roommates, friends, or past landlords you rented from. A manager or co-worker from your place of work might also be required.

Let all the people you use as a reference know that you’re using their name. Just in case they get called from your new landlord.

5) Your Employment and Income Will Need Verification

Landlords will ask for proof of income or employment from you and your other co-tenants.

In addition, sometimes landlords will ask for tax returns, but it’s not likely unless you’re self-employed.

Sometimes landlords will even call your place of work to verify employment.

It’s most likely that any calls that are made to your company will be directed to the Human Resources Dept. for verification. That department is trained to provide all the right legal answers on behalf of you and the business you work for.

A landlord will always ask for these things if they’re correctly screening new tenants. But, only after the proper consent forms have been signed. Never before!

Signing a Rental & Lease Agreement

Sometimes a landlord might terminate an entire lease if just one of the co-tenants violates the terms. Like moving in a dog when it says NO PETS. Then the dog causes a bunch of damage and the landlord comes after both of you or takes the entire deposit.

Make sure you clarify things like pet restrictions, long-term guests, parking permit limitations, smoking areas, and the total money needed to cover the first month’s rent with the deposit.

These things will all be covered in the Rental Agreement. If something concerns you and is missing in the agreement, you can add it as an amendment.

If you’re signing the lease yourself but later planning on renting out an extra bedroom in your place, make sure the landlord does not have any restrictions on doing so.

Rental agreements and applications are all pretty standard. You can see an example from my favorite self-help law website The link is below.

Rental & Lease Agreements from NOLO

Final Thoughts

Signing on for your first or even second rental agreement can be stressful. To make the process smoother, make sure you have all your financial information organized ahead of time.

And remember, if your credit is not too good, just disclose that upfront to the property manager or landlord processing your application. By explaining why your credit went bad, it will give the landlord a different perspective when reviewing your credit report, etc. And make things look better for you. The same is true for your background check.

I hope you found the information for signing your first rental or lease agreement helpful. Make sure you check out my other articles about roommate living if you are planning on living with roommates.


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