Understanding Your Lease

Making sense of this legal document

So you found a great apartment in the perfect location with wonderful roommates! You’re ready to sign the lease, get your keys and move in.

That’s wonderful—but wait, what exactly is in this legal document?

It's important to read the lease carefully, as it is a legally binding document. That means if you violate the terms of the lease (even by accident!), the landlord (person who owns the apartment and is the other signature on the lease) can evict you—leaving you without a home—or can sue you for damages or rent.

However, the lease also protects you. If your landlord violates the terms of the lease, you can go to the Berkeley Rent Board or East Bay Community Law Center in Berkeley, or Bay Area Legal Aid in San Francisco to hold the landlord accountable.

If any lease disputes come up during your time here, please let us know by emailing extension-intl@berkeley.edu or by making a housing consultation appointment so we can assist you.

The lease usually explains:

  • What the security deposit is and how and when you will get it back.
  • What the rent amount is, how and when to pay, and what are the consequences for late payments.
  • House rules such as if pets are allowed, any modifications like painting, quiet hours, smoking, overnight guests, etc.
  • Whether or not you can sublet the apartment.
  • Early termination (how to break the lease if you need to move out early) and any associated penalties.
  • Any utilities you must pay.

Here are some helpful articles to learn more about what to look for in your lease:

Need More Assistance?

If you are having trouble understanding your lease, or have questions about it, email extension-intl@berkeley.edu or make a housing consultation appointment. We are happy to review your lease and help you make sense of it before you sign!


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