Renting an Apartment: A Legal Checklist

It has been estimated that approximately 1 in every 8 Arizonans lives in a rented apartment. If you are thinking about entering into a rental agreement for an apartment, there are many things you should know and do before you sign a lease. This article offers a brief legal checklist.

If you know and do each of these things before you enter into a rental agreement, the likelihood that you will eventually find yourself in legal trouble will be greatly reduced. Nonpayment of rent is the most common reason why Arizona renters are evicted, and choosing the right apartment, understanding the rental agreement, and knowing the law all contribute to making nonpayment less likely.

By considering and knowing the answers each of the following questions, you will position yourself for a safe and successful tenancy:


1. Where do you want to live?

Every neighborhood and individual apartment building has its advantages and disadvantages. Your comfort and safety – both during the day and at night – are extremely important. If you are a light sleeper, then proximity to major roads and late-night businesses are a definite drawback. Traveling long distances to and from home, especially by car, is expensive. Costs include gas, wear and tear on the car, and insurance. If you plan to rely on public transit in order to get around, then the location and distance of bus stops or light rail stations is critical. Nearby grocery stores, restaurants, and coffee shops – and a laundry, if the building does not have washers and dryers – are always convenient.

2. What kinds of amenities matter to you?

Each apartment building offers a unique combination of “amenities” (features and facilities). Some have laundry rooms, swimming pools, barbecue pits, fitness centers, and playgrounds for children. Some have free parking for residents, assigned parking for residents, covered parking for residents, and parking for guests. Some have central air-conditioning. Others have swamp coolers. Some have free or available building-wide Wi-Fi and dishwashers and microwaves in every apartment. Some have balconies. Others do not.

3. Will you be living with pets?

Not all apartment buildings are as pet-friendly as others. Some have dog parks and dog-washing stations. Others have very strict rules about where pets may go. Most charge additional fees – either a one-time deposit or a monthly surcharge – for keeping a pet on the premises.

4. What monthly rent payment – including utilities – can you afford?

It probably goes without saying that the single most important factor in choosing an apartment is how much it will cost. It is always wise to sacrifice desired location and building and apartment amenities in order to be sure that you will be able to pay your rent in full and on time each month. Filling out a chart such as this one will help you to determine what your total monthly expenses are and therefore what monthly rent payment you can afford:

Monthly Expense Costs

rent $  _______

all basic utilities not included in rent $  _______

(e.g. electric/air-conditioning/heat)

cable (internet and/or TV) $  _______

cell phone $  _______

groceries $  _______

household items $  _______

laundry $  _______

transit pass $  _______

car (insurance/gas/maintenance/parking) $  _______

debt payments $  _______

clothing $  _______

entertainment (bars & restaurants, etc.) $  _______

other  (any other expense that you know you will have) $  _______

other  (any other expense that you know you will have) $  _______

other  (any other expense that you know you will have) $  _______

other  (any other expense that you know you will have) $  _______

other  (any other expense that you know you will have) $  _______

miscellaneous $  _______


TOTAL: $  _______



5. Do the building and apartment appear to be safe and clean and well-maintained?

Assuming time permits, it is always a good idea to tour an apartment before you agree to rent it. When you tour an apartment for the very first time, it is wise to pay attention to (among other things) whether or not:

1. you get a good feeling about the building and its surroundings

2. you get a good feeling about the manager or whomever else shows you around

3. you get a good feeling about current tenants

4. the apartment looks and smells clean

5. there are signs of mold or water leakage 

6. there are signs of pests (rats/bugs/etc.)

7. you can feel a draft coming through any windows or doors

8. the windows open properly

9. the appliances are in good working order

10. the hot and cold water run properly

11. the doors and windows have proper and working locks

12. the apartment contains operational and recently tested smoke detectors

13. anything needs to be repaired or improved (This is very important because before you sign a rental agreement you will need to make sure that the landlord agrees in writing to make any required repairs or improvements.)

6. What does the proposed rental agreement actually say?

The answers to each of the following questions should appear in writing in the rental agreement. (If they do not, there is no guarantee that the landlord will not change their mind. Although oral agreements are enforceable under Arizona law, in the event of a dispute the terms and conditions of an oral agreement will be significantly harder to prove.)

1. How much is the rent?

2. What (if any) utilities are included in the rent?

3. What utilities are excluded from the rent?

4. If the landlord charges each apartment separately for utilities, how are those utility charges calculated, and is a detailed invoice provided?

5. How much is the move-in deposit?

6. What part of the move-in deposit is refundable?

7. Who (if anyone) else will be permitted to live in the apartment?

8. Are pets allowed? If so, is there an additional pet deposit or monthly pet fee? If so, how much is it? And does it apply to each pet individually?

9. How is the apartment air-conditioned? Are there any limits or conditions related to the air-conditioning provided?

10. Is parking available? If so, is it free? If not, how much does it cost?

11. Is there a place to store bicycles? If not, are they permitted inside the apartment?

12. Are there any rules about overnight guests?

13. On what dates does the rental agreement begin and end?

14. When and where are rent payments due?

15. How may/must rent payments be made?

16. What happens if rent is paid late? Is there a penalty? If so, what is that penalty? And when does that penalty come into effect?

17. Will you be permitted to sublet or assign the apartment?

18. Are there any restrictions on how you can decorate? If so, what are they?

19. Are there any issues (safety/neighbors/bugs/etc.) of which the landlord is aware that you should know about?

20. Who do you contact (and how do you contact them) if something needs to be repaired?

21. What are the names and contact information of the landlord (owner or manager) or other person(s) authorized to accept your notices and requests?

22. What items (if any) in the apartment will the landlord commit to repairing and/or improving? (This list should be detailed and stated in writing before the rental agreement is signed.)



7. What will your legal rights and responsibilities as a renter be?

Your rights and responsibilities as a renter will be governed by a set of state laws known as the Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ARLTA). The ARLTA governs what both renters – known as “tenants” under the law – and the people or companies who own or manage apartment buildings – known as “landlords” under the law – may and must do and not do. An electronic version of the ARLTA may be accessed here: https://housing.az.gov/sites/default/files/documents/files/AZ%20Residential%20Landlord%20and%20Tenant%20Act%20-%20Revised%20July%203%202015.pdf

Before you enter into a rental agreement with a landlord, you should know that a rental agreement is a legally binding contract. Breaking a rental agreement may have serious consequences. Although the ARLTA does provide specific protections (and options) to tenants whose landlords have violated a rental agreement, the violation of a rental agreement by the landlord almost never legally justifies the violation of the rental agreement by the tenant. For example, under Arizona law, a tenant is not permitted to withhold rent (whether in whole or in part) in order to attempt to compel a landlord to make required repairs.

Section 1368(B) of Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) explicitly states that a tenant may not withhold rent for any reason not expressly authorized by the ARLTA. It also says that if a tenant does not pay rent when rent is due and still fails to pay rent within 5 days after receiving from the landlord written notice of the tenant’s nonpayment as well as the landlord’s intention to terminate the rental agreement if the rent is not paid within 5 days, then the landlord may go to court to request that the tenant be evicted.

To learn more about the legal rights and responsibilities of residential landlords and tenants in Arizona, please visit the article on this website on landlord and tenant rights and responsibilities under the ARLTA: http://azlawhelp.org/articles_info.cfm?mc=3&sc=24&articleid=25.

 8. What (if any) repairs or improvements will need to made either before or shortly after you move in?

Given that Arizona law does not permit a tenant to withhold rent in order to attempt to compel a landlord to make required repairs – or repairs of any kind, promised or otherwise – it is crucial to have listed in the rental agreement or another signed and dated writing every repair or improvement, large or small, that the landlord has promised to make. Otherwise, the landlord may claim that no such promise was given, and you will have difficulty proving otherwise

9. Have you read the rental agreement completely and carefully?

One of the biggest mistakes that tenants make is that they do not read and review the rental agreement completely and carefully (or have a trustworthy family member or friend read and review it with them) before they sign it.

You should never allow a landlord to pressure you into signing a rental agreement before you have had an opportunity to read and review it carefully. Why? Because, as stated above, a rental agreement is a legally binding contract and you will be required to comply with whatever provisions you agree to in the rental agreement (so long as those provisions do not violate the ARLTA or any other applicable laws).



10. Have you conducted a move-in inspection?

As soon as you move in to a new apartment, you should inspect the apartment for problems, both large and small, and make a detailed written record of whatever you discover by completing a damage checklist. If the landlord does not provide you with damage checklist, then you should use one of your own. The Arizona Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook to which a link is provided at the end of this article under “Resources” contains a damage checklist, and many others are available on line. Regardless of which damage checklist you use, you must make sure that everything in the apartment is listed, so you should add to your checklist where necessary.

If possible, you should conduct your move-in inspection in the presence of the landlord (or one of the landlord’s representatives). Either way, you should complete the damage checklist, date and sign it, make a photocopy of it, give that photocopy to the landlord, and keep the original for your own records.

11. Have you documented the move-in condition of the apartment?

 Given that one of the major purposes of a security deposit – which in Arizona may be up to an amount that is equal to 1 + ½ month’s rent (A.R.S. §33-1321(A)) – is to ensure that the landlord has the money to cover the cost to repair any damage to the apartment or building caused by the tenant, whenever you move into a new apartment, you should take photos and/or video documenting the condition of the apartment – especially any pre-existing problems – and even have a witness drop by for confirmation. Otherwise, after you move out the landlord may try to keep all or part of your security deposit by claiming that you caused damage that now needs repair.

12. Have you purchased renter’s insurance?

Some landlords require that tenants have renter’s insurance. If renter’s insurance is required under the terms of your rental agreement, then a failure to purchase it will be considered a violation of the rental agreement. Renter’s insurance is worth considering even when not required because it will cover the cost of replacing your personal belongings if they are stolen or damaged while inside your apartment.

13. Are you prepared to keep careful records?

One of the most important things that you can do to protect and enforce your rights as a tenant is to keep careful records of every transaction and all correspondence between you and the landlord. You should always keep receipts or make copies of every payment you make to the landlord – including each month’s rent and your security deposit – and you should always make requests of the landlord and agreements with the landlord in writing. The more detail, the better. And dated and signed. That way, if and when a dispute arises, you will have evidence to support your position.



Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (ARLTA): 


Community Legal Services – Arizona Tenants’ Rights and Responsibilities Handbook (2020): 


This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

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