Signing Your Lease

Georgetown University is committed to ensuring that off-campus students are living in safe apartments and homes. It is best not to sign a lease without checking the following:

Your Lease

A lease is a legally binding document between the tenant and the landlord. It is important to read the lease carefully before signing and to keep a copy of it after all parties have signed. If you have any questions about what is written in the lease, ask your landlord about it. Here is a sample lease for you to see what a basic lease might say, and a lease checklist to see what basic things may or may not be included in your lease. If you have questions about your lease, you should ask your landlord about it before you sign.

If any changes or additions are made to the lease, as agreed upon by you and your landlord, these changes should also be signed by you and your landlord and you should have a new copy of the lease which reflects these changes.

If you are intending to sublease your space, make sure that it is allowed under the terms of the lease and you are subleasing to someone that you trust to care for the property. Subleasing your space means that you will be this person’s landlord and will be ultimately responsible for any and all damage they cause to the property. If you do sublease, make sure you have a written agreement, like this sample sublease agreement.

Your Security Deposit

Your security deposit is an amount of money that your landlord will put in an interest-bearing escrow account until you move-out. This money can only be used to repair any damage you and your housemates caused to the property during your tenancy. Be sure you know all about your security deposit and how much it can legally be. 

Documenting Existing Conditions

After you rent your property and before you move in, you should conduct a walk-through inspection of your rental space. As you conduct your walk-through, you should document all existing damages and hazards and make a note of them in the lease. Both you and your landlord should sign and date all documents (such as your walk-through checklist) and add them to the lease agreement. A walk-through inspection is intended to protect you from being financially responsible for existing conditions that were present in the apartment/home before you moved in. Take a look at our walk-through checklist.

Basic Business License

In the District of Columbia, property owners who decide to rent an entire house, a basement unit, an apartment building, or simply a portion of their home are required to obtain a Basic Business License (BBL). This enables the District to ensure the property is safe to occupy and triggers an inspection by the D.C. Department of Consumer & Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the D.C. Fire Marshal.

If a property in the District is not legally licensed, there may not have been an inspection and unsafe conditions could exist in the rental unit. Only rent properties in D.C. that have a BBL. Although D.C. properties on our rental site are licensed, you should not assume that rental properties listed outside of the District are licensed.

DCRA has provided more information regarding the Property Inspection Guidelines for tenants and landlords. 

Schedule a Free Home Inspection

If you learn that your landlord does not have the required BBL, you should schedule an inspection. If your landlord has a BBL, you may still schedule an inspection if you have a concern or complaint about a maintenance or safety issue in your rental property and it is not being addressed by your landlord in a satisfactory way. You do not need your landlord’s permission to schedule an inspection with the DCRA, and your landlord cannot retaliate against you for having an inspection requested or completed.

Find out what DCRA looks for when inspecting a rental property.

Free Legal Information

Although ONL cannot give legal advice, our staff is available to meet with students to discuss problems they are having with their property or landlord. ONL can suggest helpful information regarding landlord-tenant issues and provide contact information to students in need of additional resources. Please reach out to us by email, phone, or stop by the office to discuss your concerns.