Lease Review and Signing

Visit the University Legal Clinic to get your lease reviewed for free (for enrolled students) or another legal resource.

The University Legal Clinic is a great resource for off-campus renters. Take your sample lease here or schedule an appointment with them online and get a free lease review. Once you reviewed your sample lease with the University Legal Clinic and received the green light to pursue the rental, fill out the application for your desired apartment or house.

Additionally, the Legal Clinic can assist with any legal questions or issues throughout your tenancy. If you’re experiencing any trouble or have concerns with your landlord or property, check in with this team of professionals.

Leasing Information to Know

Landlords are required to give you a copy of the lease application and sample lease. The lease application is a way for landlords to background check potential tenants and make sure they have the means to pay for rent and utilities. They may ask for rental history including past landlords and unit addresses, employment history, credit history, references, and any other pertinent information. An extra, nonrefundable fee may be required to cover the costs associated with credit checks, however, this cost for the credit check only is not to exceed $20. Any other fees must be refunded by the landlord, typically in the first month’s rent.

Make sure to review the lease application and sample lease carefully.

After signing a lease all tenants are jointly and severely liable for the rental period. It is important to understand all parts of a lease, including all non-standard rental provisions that a landlord attaches. Always discuss all points of interest with a landlord before signing a lease, including what is included in rent (water, electric, heat, cable/internet, parking, etc.), who is responsible for repairs, etc. If you have any specific questions or concerns with your lease agreement or your security deposit, contact the UWM University Legal Clinic.

What to Look for in a Lease
  • The name and address of the landlord and tenant(s)
  • The address of the rental property
  • Where to send the rent
  • The agreed upon monthly rent amount, with or without utilities (be specific – Heat? Water? Parking? Cable/Internet?)
  • When the rent is due (e.g. on the first day of the month)
  • The amount and terms of the security deposit
  • Which repairs are your responsibility and which are at the request of the landlord
  • Who is responsible for shoveling snow, cutting the lawn and who will supply the tools to do so
  • Specific restrictions, such as no additional tenants, smoking, pets
  • The notice period that the tenant is required to give when terminating tenancy, such as 60 days prior to end of lease
  • Subletting rules
  • When and how a landlord can enter the rental premises
  • Conditions for termination of a lease (by either party)
  • Terms for dispute resolutions (late rent, damage, repairs)
  • Emergency contact information for tenant(s) and landlord (phone, e-mail)
Other Key Points of Interest
  • Read all lease terms carefully.
  • Keep a copy of all documents for your record.
  • You can negotiate any of the terms of your lease; you have the right to change or omit undesirable portions of the lease, if both tenant(s) and landlord agree to the changes; if something has been crossed out or changed in ink on the lease; make sure both tenant(s) and landlord initial the changes.
  • A lease is a legal contract. Once you’ve signed one, ALL renters are responsible for the rental payments until the end of the term.
  • The landlord must provide the tenant with a copy of the lease before and immediately after signing a lease.
  • The landlord and tenant can agree or renew the tenancy on the same terms or conditions, or on modified terms and conditions.
  • The landlord must give 12 hours notice before entering the rental premises. The notice must be for a specific reason for entry. The landlord can enter a unit without notice if there is an emergency or if the tenant consents to the entry.
  • A tenant cannot and should not withhold rent in exchange for repairs; the landlord could then file a lawsuit against the tenant for non-payment of rent. If you are interested in rent withholding you need to contact the City of Milwaukee’s Department of Neighborhood Services for an inspector.
  • The landlord is responsible for “normal wear and tear” of the rental premises; Sign an inspection checklist upon moving in (available from the Neighborhood Housing Office) and take photos or video of the existing damages/conditions, so that you won’t be held responsible for unwarranted damages at the end of the lease. The landlord must notify you that you have seven days to document pre-existing damages. All pre-existing damages must be documented within 7 days of tenancy.
  • A landlord cannot include any provisions that impose liability on the tenant for damages beyond their control. Leases that contain these provisions may be unenforceable against the tenant. Visit the University Legal Clinic with any questions on this issue.
  • The landlord is required to go through all non-standard rental provisions with the tenant(s).
  • Routine carpet cleaning and painting, where there is no unusual damage caused by the tenant, is cited as examples of impermissible deductions from a security deposit.
  • If a landlord agrees to let you out of your lease early, always get this promise in writing because it ultimately is your responsibility to prove that there was such an agreement to terminate the tenancy early.
  • A landlord has 21 days from the when you “surrender” the premises to mail your security deposit back or provide you with a withholding statement accounting for each deduction against your security deposit.

***These are all tips provided by the OCRC and University Legal Clinic.  If you have any additional questions regarding leases or security deposits you should contact the University Legal Clinic directly.

For more information on Tenant Rights and Responsibilities, review the Landlord Tenant Booklet.

After you receive the go ahead from the University Legal Clinic and are approved for your rental application, all parties must sign and return the lease to the landlord. This is generally when you would also turn in your security deposit, which is typically the same amount as the first month’s rent. Landlords generally like one check instead of three, so consider how you want to go about payment. It doesn’t hurt to ask the landlord what their preferred method of payment is as well.

Additionally, if the landlord informs you repairs will be done in the unit, make sure you have this in writing with an estimated completion date. This is called “Promise to Repair” and must be fulfilled by law. If the landlord fails to timely correct repair issue, contact DNS. A landlord cannot legally retaliate – including threatening eviction, refusal to re-rent, etc.