House or Apartment Leasing 

 You might be looking at signing your first lease for a house or apartment—congratulations! This is a big step! However, there are some things you should be aware of BEFORE you sign a lease.

What is a lease? 

A lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord and a tenant (you). A lease allows the tenant to live/rent the landlord’s property for a specific period of time in return for reoccurring payments. The payments for a lease are usually monthly.

**Legally binding: when you sign a lease, you are making a legal agreement in writing to pay the landlord the monthly fees and follow the rules specified on the lease agreement.

What is included in a lease?

Every lease is a little bit different. You must read CAREFULLY before you sign anything. Once you sign, you are legally bound to follow the rules of the lease. The lease will usually include:

  • How much you are expected to pay each month
  • How long the lease lasts
  • What appliances and/or furniture come with the home/apartment (stove, refrigerator, dishwasher, living room furniture, bedroom furniture, washer/dryer, etc.)
  • Rules (pets, wall decoration instructions, etc.)
  • Utilities (water, gas, electric, etc.) and if they are included or if you are expected to pay them separately


What should I do before signing a lease?

There are a few steps you should take before you settle on a home or apartment. They are:

  • Search the properties online or in the newspaper. You can usually find out information like cost, how many bedrooms/bathrooms, general information, parking information, who the landlord/rental company is, etc. If you know someone who has previously rented from this business, ask them about their experience!
  • Craigslist (Lincoln or Omaha)
  • Facebook groups
  • Research the landlord/company and look for reviews. This can give you background information on whether or not they are a reliable company/person to rent from.
  • Contact the landlord/rental company and ask for a tour. You can drive by the location to check out the neighborhood as well. You can exchange email or phone number with the landlord/rental company to set up the tour. They will walk you through the property. If you have questions, ASK!
  • Read the lease CAREFULLY before signing anything. Make sure you ask questions about things you do not understand.
  • Ask about: pet policy, security deposits, late fees (if rent is not paid on time), when rent is due, utilities, etc.
  • Consider: Completing a Move in Checklist with your Landlord

What is a rental application/what is on it?

A rental application is what you will fill out after you decide you are interested in the home/apartment. This gives the landlord or company background information on you and your roommates. This could be some of the information:

  • Your name and age
  • Social security number
  • Contact information (phone number, email address, etc.)
  • Your current address and how long you’ve lived there
  • They might also ask your reason for moving!
  • Your vehicle information (if you have one) for parking reasons
  • Previous addresses
  • Your job (if you have one)
  • How long you’ve worked there
  • Your employer’s information
  • Any other sources of income + about how much you make a month
  • Emergency contact
  • If you have been evicted or not
  • Copy of your driver’s license
  • A co-signer

What is a co-signer?

A co-signer is an additional person who can be responsible for your lease. A co-signer can be a parent, grandparent, sibling, guardian, or anyone who is willing to take on your responsibility if you are unable to. The landlord can hold your co-signer accountable if you don’t pay rent/late fees, get evicted, etc. Always let your co-signer read over your lease agreement before signing. If they have any questions or need clarification, they can talk to the landlord as well.

Can I be denied if I have a juvenile record? 

Just like employers, landlords can see your juvenile record if they run a background check on you.  It may be a factor in deciding not to rent to you.  Generally, a private landlord gets to decide who they rent their property to. If you have an unsealed juvenile record and know they are running a background check, give the landlord a brief explanation. Don’t blame others—just talk about how you think you have changed and made better choices since then. You could even get a letter of recommendation from a mentor, family member, employer, etc. To avoid the possible conflict altogether, it is a good idea to make sure your record is sealed. See the flyers below to learn more about sealing your juvenile record!

Juvenile Reentry Flyer

Sealing Brochure

This project was supported by Grant No. 2017-CZ-BX-0021 awarded by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice.  Points of view or opinions in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice. 

Legal Aid of Nebraska

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