Questions to ask before signing a lease:

Safety features to look
for in the unit

  • Exterior lighting
    Proper lighting helps to prevent falls around your property and deters criminal activity.
  • Security cameras
    For some this offers an added layer of protection.
  • Window locks and guards
    Window locks and guards offer an added layer of protection.
  • Electronic locks
    If you are living in an apartment complex, you want to understand the access to the exterior building as well as your individual unit.
  • Smoke detectors
    Fires are a common safety concern in apartments. Make note of the presence of smoke detectors before you move in, test them once you’re in, and continue to test them regularly.
  • Know your neighbors
    While you might not be looking to make friends, knowing your neighbors’ names and faces (and them knowing yours) will come in handy in case of an emergency. 
  • Renters insurance
    A standard renter’s policy covers your personal items, pays your expenses if you need to relocate temporarily during covered repairs, and includes liability in case you are sued for negligence.  The average renters insurance is under $20 per month.

Is it possible to get out
of my lease?

  • This varies by the landlord and the lease agreement. The landlord may hold you accountable for the complete amount of your agreement. If you believe that the landlord is violating the agreement, then you should seek legal guidance. Iowa Legal Aid offers free consultation at:


Signs of housing discrimination

Denial of housing opportunities to people because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, because they have minor children, or because they have a disability, is known as housing discrimination. It is illegal under the federal Fair Housing Act. If you believe you were treated unfairly because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status, you have a right to file a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But in order to know if your fair housing rights have been violated, you should know the signs of housing discrimination.

The following practices by landlords or their agents (e.g., brokers and property managers) are prohibited:

*running discriminatory advertisements (for example ads that state “No Kids”, or “Looking for Great White Tenants”);

  • falsely stating to minority applicants that an available unit has been rented;
  • setting higher or lower rents, security deposit requirements or credit criteria for prospective tenants based on their race or other protected status;
  • failing to respond to inquiries by prospective minority tenants;
  • failing to provide prospective minority tenants with rental applications