What to Expect at an Apartment Lease Signing in New York?

Find out how to be prepared for your lease signing. Learn about payments you need to make, what your lease contains, and how to negotiate with your landlord.

You traveled through the concrete jungle’s maze of real estate magazines, online listings, and realtors to finally find a rent-stabilized apartment that’s within budget that you were able to get approved for.

It’s all ready, and the landlord looks thrilled to have you as a member of the community. But, as the date approaches, you start to get a little tense.

While moving into a new apartment can be an exciting prospect, you certainly don't want to be signing into a situation that you might seriously regret.

This article will help you understand what you should expect and what you should watch for.

What to Expect at a Lease Signing

  • A lease signing happens after you receive approval of your application for an apartment in New York.
  • A rental lease is simply a contract of the terms for you which you will rent your apartment, stating the length of time you will reside and the amount you will pay the landlord each month.
  • You may be asked to appear physically with guaranteed funds for the lease signing, or be asked to sign and pay remotely and electronically.
  • Specific rules and laws apply for rent-stabilized apartments that affords you rights as a tenant.

What is a Lease Signing?

A lease signing, simply put,is the appointment where you officially agree to rent an apartment for a set amount of time into action.

It’s a contract signing, and it’s also the time when you are expected to put the money down to secure your apartment.

When Does a Lease Signing Happen?

It happens after you receive approval based on your credit report and your financial qualifiers.

Read on about what a landlord is looking for in your credit report, and get approved for your desired apartment.

Once they decide to invite you to live in their building/apartment, a lease signing date will be


What Do I Have to Bring to the Lease Signing?

Part of making sure a signing is a success is to have all the right paperwork and payments with you when you’re there. This can include:

  • Your Driver’s License/State ID
  • Your Lease Signing Payments (such as security deposit, first month's rent, and/or brokers fee)
  • Your Social Security Card
  • Identifying Documents of Any Other People On Your Lease
  • Information About Your Car

Your lease signing day, if nothing else, is a day where a lot of paperwork will be filled out. Most of it is bureaucracy, so it may be wise to treat it similar to a trip to the DMV.

Should I Bring Someone With Me to the Lease Signing?

While it's not necessary to bring an attorney with you, some people with a little extra income never make a move without their lawyer reviewing any contracts or legal documents.

If you do have a lawyer, you can certainly request a copy of the lease prior to signing and have them review the language.

Most lease agreements are fairly standard, but there are always going to be landlords with particular or quirky stipulations. These things can always be addressed prior to or at the time of the signing.

The most important person who should be attending the lease signing is your guarantor, if you are using one.

Your guarantor is a co-signor, so their signatures must also appear on the lease.

If your guarantor is not in town, this could pose a problem. However, many landlords and management companies are now using remote electronic signing portals, so this may not be an issue.

You can always see if the landlord would agree to FedEx-ing the lease to your guarantor and having them sign, notarize, and send back.

Where Will the Lease Signing Take Place?

Usually, the lease signing can take place at the landlord's or management company's offices, the landlord's broker's office, or at the apartment itself.

Some offices can be a far way off from your new apartment, so give yourself some time to get there.

Remember to include the time it will take to get any cashier's checks, money orders, or certified bank checks ready for the lease signing.

However, again, with the advent of remote electronic signings, the lease signing can take place in the comfort of your home or workplace, at the time of your choosing.

In this case, though, you will need to better coordinate when you get keys/access, as well as how payments will be set up.

How Long Does a Lease Signing Take?

A physical signing can take anywhere from about a few minutes to hours. It really depends on the situation and the person.

Some lease signings are short because the lessee is just not reading or skimming the lease agreement.

It is generally, recommended that you read through any contract you're given thoroughly before signing, but if you feel you know the contents or have reviewed the contract beforehand and are okay, feel free to sign away.

Others take their time to read each detail. This can take a long time, depending on the length of the lease agreement as well as the number of riders and notices included.

At times, major issues can arise that cause a lease signing to take hours. This can be the fault of the landlord, renter, roommates, guarantors, or real estate agents.

Some examples of issues are the landlord or lessee getting cold feet, roommates (other lessees) flaking out, guarantors refusing to guaranty the lease, real estate agent promising something that ends up not being true.

Brokers and agents might be able to tell you a number of stories on lease signings from hell, but they are not the norm. Lease signings usually go without a hitch.

What Happens During a Lease Signing?

If signing a physical copy of the lease, you'll be signing at least two copies of the lease. One will go to you and the other to the landlord, once all signatures are on the contracts.

A lease signing will have multiple steps:

Reading your apartment rental agreement.

This is your final chance to read over the rental agreement, lease rules, and understand all the fees involved. If you have any questions, now is the time to ask your landlord.

Signing the agreement

A notary may be present to make sure the signature is official, and they may notarize it, although this is rare. Remember to initial every single page. Without the initials, the lease cannot be final and the landlord may refuse to sign.

Putting together paperwork

Paperwork that you may be required to fill includes lead safety notices, child safety notices, pet waivers, as well as notices for parking.

They may need to scan your ID

This is just to ensure that you are on file and have everything properly processed.

You will need to pay all the fees due at signing

Most leases will not be active until fees are paid.

They will confirm your move-in date and possibly hand you keys

In some cases, you may be expected to wait until your move-in date before you receive your keys.

Your landlord will then give you a copy of all the files you signed.

You are always entitled to a copy.

Remember that at least by the lease signing, you should have received a welcome packet, or the contact information to the management company, superintendent, access codes, move-in hours, and/or landlord's contact.

Information on the gas, electricity, as well as internet service providers, should also be provided.

This information will vary on the property, but in New York City, National Grid and ConEdison are the usual providers of gas and electricity.

What Should I Look for in a Lease Agreement?

The long story is the apartment’s rules, the fees associated with maintenance, what rent covers, how much rent will be, and anything else that will impact your life.

The short story is everything.

It’s crucial to read your agreement in detail before any money is handed over or any paperwork is signed.

If you have any questions about your agreement, ask your landlord immediately.

This is the time to do it. Do not sign anything until you’ve read and understood the entire agreement.

If you are leasing a rent-stabilized apartment, you should receive a rider to the lease outlining the particulars of what that entails.

A rent-stabilized apartment's lease can also only be for 12 or 24-months.

To find out more about rent-stabilized apartments, read up on What is a Rent-Stabilized Apartment in New York?

What’s in your lease?

The contents of your lease are fairly straightforward. Your lease is the contractual agreement that details the rules of your time spent in your new apartment. This includes:

  • Your Rental Terms. These terms will include how long you intend to stay in the apartment, the monthly rent, any additional fees you may incur, as well as any legal requirements you must abide by in order to stay in the lease.
  • Rules and Regulations. Every landlord will have rules included on a rental agreement, and those rules will include matters involving home maintenance, guests, subletting, and pet guidelines. Not following those rules can lead to eviction, so make sure to read them.
  • Legal Notices. Your lease will also include mandatory legal notices such as your renters’ rights, lead paint advisories, and more.
  • Parking Paperwork. If your lease comes with an assigned parking spot, you may be asked to fill out a form identifying your car.

What do I do if something on the lease sounds wrong?

Your lease signing is the renting version of, “Speak or forever hold your tongue.” If you notice something that isn’t quite right or worries you, it’s your duty to speak up and negotiate a better term.

Don’t just take a landlord’s word for it, either. Your rental agreement should have the edits, in writing, initialed by both parties before you agree to sign the dotted line.

What if the landlord won’t budge on the lease agreement?

You are not obligated to continue forth with a signing if you don’t agree to the terms they placed on the lease.

If you and your potential landlord cannot come to an agreement, the best way to handle it is to continue your search for an apartment or determine whether you can live with their stipulations.

What do I do if the apartment needs repairs?

You have a couple of options here.

You can annotate this issue on the rent and put a “fix by” date agreed by the landlord before you sign.

You can also simply note this on the rental agreement so that you won’t be penalized when your lease is up.

Another option you can choose is to delay the move-in date and signing date until you see evidence of repairs.

This can be risky and make you lose the lease, but if you are very leery of the landlord, then it’s an option worth considering.

What Happens if I Can't Fulfill My End of the Bargain?

While your duties are basically to live in the apartment and pay the rent, the lease will outline plenty of other things you can and cannot do.

People lose jobs or suddenly have a lot of expenses like medical bills.

Your lease should highlight what happens in the case of late rent, but this is something you should be upfront with your landlord about when it occurs, so you can come to some kind of agreement.

Read on What to Do if You're Unable to Pay the Rent for further guidance and tips.

In cases, where there is damage to the apartment expect some or all of your security deposit to be withheld. Learn more from What is a Security Deposit?

How Much Am I Expected to Pay at Signing?

The amount you pay is broken down into your security deposit, rent, and fees. The full details of the agreement hinge on what your rental agreement states, so if you’re not sure what’s due, refer to it.

Your Security Deposit

Most landlords will expect potential renters to put down a security deposit that is equal to a month’s rent.

The law limits the security deposit to one month's worth of rent in New York State.

If you have a pet you’re going to bring along, expect to have a pet deposit as an add-on to your security deposit.


Unless the building that you are looking to rent has a special deal, most landlords will expect your first month of rent as part of your lease agreement. Some landlords may also require your last month’s rent as well.

If you have a pet, you might also be charged pet rent. This will also be due at the time of your lease signing.

Broker Fees

Brokers are paid when someone signs a lease through them. Sometimes, landlords will pay the brokers’ fees in order to encourage a quick rental. However, if you have an apartment that’s in demand, you may be required to pay a broker fee.

The more competitive the market, the more likely landlords and management companies won't be willing to foot the bill for a listing broker.

Typically, broker fees are equal to the amount of rent you’ll pay every month. This is a one time fee, and will not be refunded to you once your lease is up.

How Should I Pay the Money Due at Lease Signing?

It’s important to make sure that your payment reaches the right hand, that it’s secure, and that it’s in a format that’s accepted by landlords.

When it comes to payment methods, most landlords will allow cashiers checks and money orders for rent.

Both checks and money orders leave a paper trail that makes it possible to keep records of when you’ve paid rent, how much you paid, and who was paid the money.

Checks, in particular, are secure since they cannot be cashed by anyone except for the person it’s addressed to.

However, most or all landlords will never accept a personal check at first as these funds are not guaranteed.

Furthermore, more and more landlords are accepting digital payments through online portals. Some landlords will only accept electronic payments.

Just remember, that there is usually a fee associated with these online portals. If you don't want to incur a surcharge, you should pay by check.

Why shouldn’t I pay my rent or security deposit in cash?

Cash is generally a very unsafe method of paying rent. In the off chance that you’re dealing with a rent scammer, paying in cash is a surefire way to never see that money (or person) again.

It’s also difficult to prove (or disprove) that you paid rent in court if you pay rent in cash.

Many legitimate landlords will not accept cash because of this issue alone.

What Happens After the Lease Signing?

Ideally, you'll be given the keys or access codes to your new place as well as a mail key at the time of signing, especially if you've agreed on an immediate move-in.

However, if the start of the lease is a future date, you may only get access at that time.

Most landlords and management companies will try to be flexible about your move-in date, or if you have a good reason to get into the apartment previous to the lease start date.

If the previous tenant is moving out the day before you move in, don't expect to get access.

Incumbent tenants can cause problems if they do not move out by the date agreed upon.

If you cannot move into the apartment on your lease start date due to the apartment not being accessible because of a tenant or renovation work, ask your landlord to prorate the rent by the day so you do not have to pay rent for the days you cannot gain access.

You should also expect to receive a fully signed copy of your lease to be sent or handed to you at a later date.

The two copies of the lease and riders will be taken away from you after the signing.

This is because the landlord or their representative will be signing both copies as well and sending you one of the contracts.

You may receive an empty copy of the lease for your reference in the interim, but this is not the official lease.

This normally takes a few business days, but sometimes you may not receive a copy until a week or two after you've signed.

If you haven't received your signed lease, you should definitely keep asking until you receive your copy.

Other scenarios that might occur after you sign a lease is that you may realize that you need to break a lease.

Learn about your options by reading about breaking your apartment lease and how it affects your credit.

What if I want to renew my lease?

If you are renewing your lease, mazel tov!

You won’t be required to pay another security deposit and your paperwork should continue to migrate through from years prior.

However, if your rent price is going up, you will need to pay the difference to add to your security deposit.

Most renewals are much less formal in nature.

If you've been a good tenant and fulfilled your obligations according to your lease, your landlord should be offering you a lease renewal.

If you live in a rent-stabilized unit, the landlord must offer you a lease renewal.

The landlord will most likely send you the renewal contract a few months prior to the end of your lease, that way if you decided not to renew, the landlord will have ample time to look for a new tenant.

If you are renewing, all you really have to do is sign your lease agreement again and make sure that your landlord gets your contract before the lease renewal window lapses.

How Can I Tell If My Lease Signing is a Scam?

Though rare, there are cases where scammers set up a lease signing that was illegitimate and scammed people out of thousands of dollars. New York City housing organizations put together a set of warning signs to help people determine whether or not they’re dealing with a scammer. These include:

  • The landlord is holding a lease signing the same day as your showing. Generally speaking, most landlords in New York City will want to run your credit or do a little research before they have you as a renter. If the landlord seems super excited to have you despite knowing little about you, it could be a scam.
  • The landlord offers to decrease the price dramatically if you sign immediately after seeing it. This is usually the biggest giveaway. Scammers want you to hand over the money immediately, so they’ll create urgency.
  • The landlord demands your payment in cash. This is a terrible sign and should be treated as such. Even if the rental is legitimate, it’s not one you want to work with. Should there be a dispute, a paper trail will be impossible to prove.
  • There’s no request for your ID or any similar paperwork. Landlords want to know who’s staying in their buildings. If this didn’t happen, there’s a problem.

Should I worry about my signing falling through?

Generally, this is not something you should worry about. If a landlord is already offering you to sign on the apartment, then they already decided that you’re not the type to break an apartment lease and that you are trustworthy.

The only somewhat common reason a signing would fall through would be because you personally decided it was not an apartment you want to pursue.

So go ahead, sign away. You deserve that new home!

Ossiana Tepfenhart
About the author

Ossiana Tepfenhart is a writer for PropertyNest and writes on all things New York City real estate.