PHOTOS AND CONDITION REPORTS
Before you move any furniture and personal belongings into your new home, take pictures of everything, especially any damaged areas. You want to be able to prove to a judge that the damages your landlord billed you for already existed when you moved in. If your landlord has you fill out a move-in condition report, note every problem and keep a copy for yourself. If the landlord doesn't give you a move-in condition report, make one yourself and send him a copy.
After you move out, take pictures again so you can prove that you left the premises in good shape. Also, if the landlord didn't give you a move-in condition report when you moved in, take the copy you made of the one you did at move-in and complete a move-out portion. Then send a copy of to the landlord.
If you are living with roommates (whether you have a joint lease, or an individual lease), consider signing a roommate agreement. The SLS attorney can help with that by providing you with a sample roommate agreement that can be tailored to your individual needs and circumstances.
CHECK FOR COMPLAINTS
Don't be shy about asking current residents of the property what they think of the property and their landlord.
CONSIDER RENTER'S INSURANCE
Many landlords require their tenants to have renter's insurance while some just recommend it. Students are sometimes covered under their parent's homeowner's insurance and don't need a separate renter's policy. Consider speaking with several insurance companies about Renter's insurance to find out what it covers, what options they have, and how much it will costs you. Regardless of whether your landlord requires it, it is a good idea to have it anyway. You can also get liability coverage that will cover your landlord's property and the property of other tenants in case you damage their property through your negligence. If you or your roommates are accident prone, you should get liability coverage; otherwise, you might end up paying for an entire apartment building and its contents if it all burned up in a fire that you accidentally caused.
GET IT IN WRITING
Don't rely on oral promises. If it's not in the lease, you probably won't be able to enforce it. If you and the landlord agree to something that's not in the lease, handwrite it in; then you and the landlord should initial and date the change.
Unless the lease says otherwise, it's perfectly acceptable to make maintenance (and other) requests by phone or email. However, if you don't get the response you're looking for, put the request in writing. Send a letter by certified mail (or get a certificate of mailing) or hand deliver the letter and request a receipt when you deliver it.
At the very least pay by a means that will provide proof of payment. Be careful when paying by personal check. While you will have proof of payment once it is cashed, you won't have proof that it was delivered on time. If you are having problems with your landlord, hand deliver your check and ask for a receipt.
GET A COPY OF THE LEASE FOR REVIEW
Don't sign a lease without spending the time to really look it over. If a landlord is unwilling to let you take a copy of the lease home to review, you probably should look at other properties to rent. Remember, you can always make an appointment with the SLS attorney to have your leased reviewed before you sign it.