If you’ve just graduated college, or you’re looking to live on your own for the first time, you’re probably trying to sign a lease soon. It’s an exciting time. You’ve likely thought about how you’re going to decorate the place, and looked into recipes so you can get accustomed to cooking in your own space. But before you dive into the fun stuff, you have to sign a lease. And before that, you have to be full aware of what signing a lease entails. So, we’ve created a checklist of everything you need to do before you sign on the dotted line.

1. Read the Fine Print

Does your lease have a clause about free exterminations? Is renters’ insurance mandatory? What’s the pet fee? These are questions that should be answered when you read the fine print of either the application or the lease itself. It’s important to read all of the information carefully, so you’re not caught off guard. And don’t be afraid to ask the agent, landlord or leasing office for clarifications on the answers.

2. Screen Who You’re Moving in With

When you’re getting into a spot for the first time, you may have roommates. Moving in with a romantic partner or a bestie seems like a dream to some, but it can go awry, so be careful. No one wants a broken lease, an eviction on their credit, or a ruined relationship. So be smart and be clear about your expectations. Lastly, only make a move if you’re certain that you can stay for the duration of the lease.

Read about securing an apartment when you have inconsistent income here.

3. Make Sure the Landlord Is Aware of Pre-Existing Damage

Before you sign anything, do a thorough walk-through of the space, take photos of any damage (like holes or doors that don’t close), and report them to the landlord. This way, you’ll take note of what needs to be fixed before you sign a lease. This also ensures that you’ll receive your security deposit back when it’s time for you to move out.

4. Ask About Guests or Subleasing

If you plan on leaving town for a month or two for a residency, college break, or a long term visit to your hometown, you might want to consider subletting your apartment. Subletting is when you allow someone to move into your space and they pay the rent for you. Even if there’s no clause about subletting in your lease, it’s still a good idea to check with your landlord to make sure it doesn’t lead to any problems.

5. Make More Than Your Rent

If the rent at an apartment is $1,000 and you make $1,500 on a monthly basis, it’s wise to keep looking around. When you’re looking to rent, you also have to factor in other bills, including utilities and groceries. And oh yeah, your cellphone, too. In fact, most landlords want you to make anywhere from three-times (monthly) to forty-times your rent (yearly).

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