If you want to rent an apartment, you need to sign a lease, which is a legally binding contract between you and the landlord, the person who owns the property. A lease is usually good for a set time. Some leases are on a month-to-month basis, but most are for a period of one year or two years.
The lease or rental agreement lists out your responsibilities as a tenant and the landlord's responsibilities. The lease will tell you how much the monthly rent is, when it is due, and how you can pay it. Some landlords will only take a certified check or money order, and others will accept a personal check or cash. If you pay your rent late, there is usually a late fee. The amount of the late fee is also usually in the lease. The lease will also tell you how much the security deposit is. Usually it is the amount of one month's rent. The lease will tell you if you can have pets or not. Many places do not allow pets. If you bring one in anyway, they can fine you or kick you out. If your apartment does allow pets, most likely you will have to pay an extra amount of money, called a pet deposit, to cover any damages caused by the animal. Other rules that may be included in a lease include whether you are allowed to smoke inside the property and whether you are allowed to make any changes like paint. Many landlords do not allow you to paint or even make holes in the wall to hang up pictures.
A lease is proof that you legally live somewhere. Sometimes you need a lease to show a school that you live within a certain area. Make sure you get a copy of the signed lease from your landlord.