Guest Opinion | What you should do before you sign an apartment lease

Two attorneys from University of Iowa Student Legal Services give tips for students on apartment hunting in Iowa City.


It’s fall in Iowa City, which means voting, raking leaves, and signing leases for the 2022-2023 lease period. Iowa City is notorious for early lease signing, so it’s a good time to review some tips and red flags.

1. Set a budget. The first thing you need to decide is whether you are living on campus or off, and what your budget will be. For off-campus living, consider not only the rent payment, but also the utilities, parking, transportation, food, and cleaning costs.

2. Don’t feel pressured to sign. It’s OK to shop around to find the unit and housing situation that’s best for you. Make sure you look at the actual unit you want to rent, not a model unit that may be in better condition. Visit at different times of the day to assess the noise and security situation, and talk to current tenants about their experience. A lot can change between now and when new leases start in August, so don’t sign unless you are sure that you (and your roommates) plan to be in Iowa City next fall.

3. Do your research. Make sure your landlord is someone you’re going to be able to work with and who will take your needs as a tenant seriously. You can research the landlord by checking Google Reviews, the Student Government Rental Guide, and the Housing Inspector’s website. You may also want to look-up the landlord on Iowa Courts Online to see how often they are suing tenants or being sued by tenants.

4. Read the lease before you sign. Leases are legally binding contracts which are often long and full of legal jargon. At Student Legal Services, we provide free lease reviews to students so they understand their legal rights and responsibilities. We can also spot illegal or concerning lease provision and educate you on the consequences. The lease review should happen before you sign, but can happen at any time. If the landlord doesn’t give you time to review the lease before you sign, ask yourself why the landlord wouldn’t want you to be fully informed about the rental agreement.

5. Get it in writing. Landlords often make promises about things like internet, renovations, and other policies, but if they aren’t in the lease, they’re difficult to enforce. Don’t rely on the landlord’s word. Ask for their promises to be added to the lease.

Signing a lease can be exciting, but being uninformed can lead to serious financial consequences. In addition to lease reviews, Student Legal Services provides support to students throughout the renting process, from issues with maintenance or landlord entry, to lease termination and security deposit refunds. Visit our website for more information.

-Amanda Elkins, J.D. and Alyssa Pomponio, J.D., Attorneys, Student Legal Services



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