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Signing A Lease

Before Signing Your First Lease

Know your budget before you search and watch for additional fees

Ask what utilities are and are not included if the place comes furnished or unfurnished and whether there are any application fees.
*See definitions for Application Fee, Security Deposit, & Prorated Rent.

Be aware of community rules

Ask about noise, pets, parking, use of common spaces, etc. Knoxville has a noise ordinance, and the fine associated with it is more than $100. The ordinance prohibits “any unreasonably loud, unusual, or unnecessary noise which disturbs the peace and quiet of any neighborhood, or which causes discomfort or annoyance to any reasonable person of normal sensitivity residing in the area, or which otherwise injures or endangers the comfort, repose, health, peace, safety or welfare of others.”

Check for and report any preexisting damages

Make a detailed report.

Common Terms

A person that pays rent to use or occupy the land, a building, or other property owned by another; also can be referred to as renter, occupant, dweller, lessee, or boarder.

A person, company, or corporation who owns the property (house, apartment, room, etc.), and rents or leases it to other people; also can be referred to as lessor, property-owner, or manager.

A written legal contract that grants temporary possession, for a length of time that must be indicted, of property (house, apartment, and/or room) to a tenant for compensation of a fixed rate to be paid to the landlord. The lease provides both you and your landlord rights and duties.


Signing your lease indicates that you have agreed to all of its conditions.

Note: If you will be living with roommates, be sure to inquire if your lease is an individual lease (indicating that you are responsible only for your own rent and not the rent of your roommates in the event that he or she does not pay his or her rent) or a joint lease (requires all tenants to sign lease and holds other roommates accountable for the cost of rent if a roommate does not pay his or her rent).

Your Lease Should Include the Following Items:

  • Address of the place you are renting
  • Address and phone number of landlord
  • Amount of Rent (as well as due and past due dates)
  • Length of lease
  • Pet Policy and/if pet fee
  • Amount of security deposit (and date of return)
  • Provider and payer of electricity, gas, water, etc.
  • Who makes repairs and how to request a repair
  • When is it acceptable for your landlord to enter your property
  • Rent– the tenant’s monetary amount owed to the landlord as payment for the use of the property. Keep a record of how you paid your rent. Under Tennessee law, a landlord cannot charge a late fee until the rent is five days late (the day rent is due is counted as the first day). If day five is a Sunday or legal holiday, the landlord cannot impose a fee if the rent is paid on the next business day. The fee cannot exceed 10% of the amount past due.

Application fee
Monetary amount typically requested from the potential tenant at the time of application. This amount is not refunded.

Security deposit
Monetary amount usually paid by the tenant at the time the landlord and tenant sign the lease. The amount is intended to cover the expenses of any repairs of damages of the property that are greater than normal “wear and tear.” There is not a statutory limit on the amount a landlord can request for a security deposit; however, landlords must return security deposits within 30 days after the tenant has moved out.

A landlord may require a co-signor if you are renting your first apartment, have no (or poor) credit history, or are under a certain age. A co-signor will appear on the landlord-tenant as a guarantor, promising to pay your rent if you cannot. A co-signor is not required to be your roommate.

Prorated rent
If you move into your rented property prior to the first of the month, your landlord could require you to pay prorated rent. Prorated rent is determined by the amount of rent due divided by the number of days in the month for the daily rent amount. You then multiply the daily rent by the number of days the tenant will be occupying the property.