Do’s & Don’ts When Signing a Lease

If you are thinking about signing a lease Inspect the unit.

Before you sign a lease, inspect a house or apartment. Make sure the unit is in good condition. The unit may need repairs. If you want repairs made before you move in:

  • do not give the landlord any money until he agrees to make the repairs by a certain date; and
  • Get the agreement in writing.

If you want to move in even though the problems have not been fixed, get an agreement in writing signed by the landlord:

  • which lists the repairs the landlord must make; and
  • gives a date when the repairs need to be done.

Be sure and keep a copy of any agreement.

Sign a move-in checklist.

Even if you do a walk-through inspection of the apartment and find no major problems, complete a move-in checklist that describes the condition of the unit. Complete the checklist with the landlord. Ask the landlord to sign the checklist.

If the landlord will not sign a checklist, then make your own. Sign and date the checklist. Mail the checklist to the landlord, and keep a copy for yourself.

Your checklist is good evidence of problems the apartment had when you moved in. Some examples of the type of damage to note on the list include:

  • dirty walls;
  • scratched furniture;
  • broken windows;
  • torn screens;
  • stained carpets;
  • leaky pipes, etc.

If the landlord tries to charge you for causing these same damages to the unit, your checklist will protect you.

You and the landlord should sign a move-out checklist also, so that you both agree as to what has been damaged while you lived there.

If you discover problems right after you move in or your landlord will not let you move in.

Problems in an apartment may not be obvious. You may not discover the problem until you move in. If so, you may be able to end the lease.

If your landlord does not let you move in, then you may be able to end the lease.

Talk to a lawyer before you end your lease. To end your lease for these reasons:

  • give or send the landlord written notice that within five days the lease will end; and
  • explain why you are ending the lease.


The law says a landlord must keep rental property in “good repair.” That means a landlord must make repairs to an apartment when needed.

Check your lease to see if it makes you responsible for fixing or replacing certain items in the unit. For information on what repairs are your responsibility or how to proceed when your landlord refuses to make repairs, see the section below called “If you are having trouble getting the landlord to make repairs to your unit”.

If you are without hot or cold running water, electricity, gas, or other essential service.

If you want to stay at the property:

It is your landlord’s responsibility to provide:

  • Electricity,
  • Gas and
  • Hot and cold running water.

Your landlord must provide these services, even though you might pay the bills for these services.

If you do not have these services:

  • Give your landlord a notice in writing telling him about the problem;
  • Or send a notice by certified mail right away;
  • Date the notice; and
  • Keep a copy of the notice.

If your landlord does not fix the problem, there are a couple of things you can do without ending the lease. Talk to a lawyer before taking these steps!

A. You can pay someone to fix the problem and deduct that amount from your next rent payment.

B. You can find another place to stay until the landlord fixes the problem. If you do this you do not have to pay rent for the days you are not living at home. If the landlord cuts off your service on purpose, you can do either of these two things above and sue him for one month’s rent and your attorney’s fee.

If you are having trouble getting the landlord to make repairs to your unit.

A landlord has many responsibilities. Your landlord must:

A. Keep your home up to the local housing code standards that address health and safety. This applies only if your city has a local housing code.

B. Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to keep your home in a fit and livable condition. A tenant has to tell a landlord in writing that repairs are necessary.

C. Keep all common areas of the home in a clean and safe condition. This includes making sure that stairways, approaches, and entry ways are safe to use and can support people.

D. Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all

a. electrical,

b. plumbing,

c. sanitation,

d. heating,

e. ventilation,

f. air conditioning, and

g. other facilities and appliances supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord. This includes elevators.

E. Keep the foundation, floor, walls, ceilings, and roof :

a. Weatherproof;

b. Waterproof; and

c. Rodent proof.

F. Provide and maintain appropriate containers and conveniences for the removal of ashes, garbage, rubbish, and other waste incidental to the occupancy of the dwelling unit and arrange for their removal from the appropriate container.

G. Supply

a. Running water at all times;

b. Reasonable amounts of hot water at all times; and

c. A reasonable amount of heat

In order for you as a tenant to enforce any of these provisions, you need to give your landlord written notice of the problem. If your landlord does not make appropriate repairs, your remedies could include:

  • ending the rental agreement,
  • money damages, or
  • injunctive relief.

You should discuss your enforcement options and potential remedies with an attorney.

Money Damages.

You may be able to sue for money damages if your landlord does not fix a problem. You have to tell the landlord in writing about the problem before you can sue. If your landlord tries to evict you for not paying your rent, you may have a defense to the eviction because your landlord did not fix the problem. Call a lawyer for advice about this.

Retaliation by the Landlord.

If you do call code enforcement, the landlord is not allowed to “retaliate” or get back at you:

  • by raising your rent,
  • evicting you or
  • cutting off your gas, electric or water.

See “If you are without hot or cold running water electricity, gas, or other essential service.” Call a lawyer or Legal Aid of Nebraska’s AccessLine® if this happens.

 If your landlord has entered your apartment/house without your permission.

A landlord can come into your unit to:

  • inspect the unit,
  • make repairs, or
  • show the unit to future tenants or buyers.

Your landlord must give you at least one day’s notice before coming into your unit. The only exception to this rule is if there is an emergency.

Your landlord may not come into your unit at unreasonable times, like the middle of the night.

Call a lawyer if your landlord does not give you one day’s notice before entering your unit. Call a lawyer if your landlord bothers you with frequent inspections. You may be able to sue the landlord and get money damages and your attorney’s fees.

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