5 Steps To Signing A Rental Agreement [by yourself or with a roommate]

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

We’re going to review what prerequisites are required before an agreement can be signed.

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

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? Something to think about.

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 some brief tips on things you should consider before signing your name to these documents.

Let’s Begin!

Step 1: The Rental Application

Filling out a rental application is absolutely required for anyone signing a lease or month to month rental agreement with the landlord. All roommates will be required to do this. It should not be a big deal, and it will ask you for very similar information that a job application would. Things like your full name, address, social security number, previous rental history, emergency contact information, etc.

This is all standard protocol and part of renting something.

Step 2: Credit Check

No landlord or homeowner is going to rent to you if your credit is bad or you have a severe 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.

If 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 report they pull.

Step 3: Criminal Background Check

Landlords will normally run criminal background checks with a third party company (AKA. Tenant Screening Service). 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.

Step 4: Reference Check

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.

Step 5: Verifying Employment and Income

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

They’ll make a request to see your recent W2 or recent paycheck stubs. Landlords will sometimes ask for tax returns, but it’s not likely unless you’re self-employed.

Landlords may 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 firm.

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!

Step 6: Signing The 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.

Before you agree to any terms with a new landlord (or roommate), you need to inquire about any concerns you have relating to living and sharing the space with someone.

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.

This will all be covered in the Rental Agreement. If something concerns you and is missing, you can add it in 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 NOLO.com. The link is below.

Rental & Lease Agreements from NOLO

That’s a lot of things to think about! But it’s better to be thorough in the beginning than later discover you missed something and now you’re renting from a horrible landlord or living with the roommate from hell! And you’ve locked in a one-year lease and can’t immediately part ways. Ouch.