Understanding a Contract or Lease

See a copy of your contract.

In our experience working with college students, leases or rental agreements frequently get signed without taking time to read through all the details. Included below are some general items that most contracts and leases will include as well as a brief description of each:

Term (Dates of Validity) – Almost all contracts and leases will contain a clause that states the dates for which that the document is valid. Common timelines include academic year, 12-month, and month-to-month leases.

General Conditions – Miscellaneous clauses that may not fit elsewhere are included here. This section of a contract typically contains valuable information to be aware of before signing a contract.

Cancellation of Contract – Most housing arrangements have penalties associated with choosing to cancel your contract or lease prior to the end of the timeline arranged within the dates of validity. Most contract cancellation fees are based on the number of days/months left in the contract period, a base sum that doesn’t change throughout the year, or a combination of the two types. Many contracts and leases allow breaking of the contract early for very specific reasons and it is important to understand these reasons prior to signing the document.

Notice to Vacate – For apartments and other off-campus facilities, you are required to give notice before vacating a lease. This notice to vacate is needed even when your contract or lease is about to end. If you do not give notice to vacate, you may be subjected to additional charges. With the residence hall, you do not have to give notice for leaving at the end of your contract (which goes through June), but you do if you would like to leave before the contract ends.

Prohibited Items – As with any type of agreement, there are certain things which are allowed and others that are not allowed. This is often a very important, yet overlooked, aspect of any contract, because it can point out such prohibited items as alcohol, tobacco, firearms, pets, and noise restrictions. You can view a full list of prohibited items online here, as well as in the contract.

Payment Details – How much one pays to live in a space is often a deciding factor for individuals looking for housing options. Contracts and leases will almost certainly specify such things as how often, how much, when rent is due, penalties for not paying, down payments necessary to claim the room, and other miscellaneous charges and payments owed to the renter/leaser. Most rental agencies will only accept one rent payment per unit, so you will need to figure out a system for payment with any potential roommates.

Maintenance of Facilities – What maintenance services are provided, who performs the maintenance, what utilities such as trash and recycling, and where the ultimate responsibility of maintenance falls is important to consider as you sign a contract or lease. Keep in mind that opposing parties are bound by what they agree to provide within a contract so holding a landlord/rental agent responsible for these items is important, but knowing what you are agreeing to is equally important. We advise keeping track of your condition upon taking occupancy of a space; including taking pictures.


As mentioned above, every contract and lease is going to be different from the next and, as such, it is very important to thoroughly read and understand every aspect of the document before signing it.  Once a contract or lease has been signed, it is a legally binding document that one must abide by. Asking questions about unclear aspects of the document is encouraged as it can often help clarify confusions as they arrive.