Whether you're renting for three months or three years; these rules apply to anyone wanting to be a responsible renter.

1. Get everything in writing.

Anything not specifically outlined in your lease should be put into a written document. Without documentation, you have no proof to back yourself up. For example, if you've reported a repair request to your landlord, and three weeks later it still hasn't been taken care of, you won't be able to go to your landlord and complain. How can you prove that you informed your landlord of the problem if you have no physical evidence to back yourself up? Make sure you write down EVERYTHING from repair requests, to amendments in the lease, to lease termination notifications.

2. Read EVERYTHING before you sign it, and don't sign it if you don't understand.

This rule sounds so simple... but SO MANY PEOPLE don't follow it. The language in a lease is confusing. Don't feel stupid if you don't understand a lease. You should only feel stupid if you sign something without understanding it. Your landlord and the representatives at the place you choose to rent from are not out to hurt you! Don't be afraid to ask them what the lease means.

3. Remember that a contract is a legally binding document.

Depending on the state your renting in, the lease can cover everything from what you pay to who's responsible for the yard work. Regardless of what the lease states, if you sign it, you must abide by it. If you break the lease without your landlord's approval, you could end up losing everything from your security deposit to your credit.

The only exception to this rule is if you, your roommate(s) and your landlord agree to add an amendment. This amendment can nullify or add to the original agreements made in the original lease. The amendment must be signed and dated by all parties involved in the lease.

4. Don't be afraid to talk to your landlord.

If you're worried about making a payment, or you don't think you're going to be able to fulfill the lease term, talk to your landlord before you do anything. Maybe you'll be able to work out some sort of agreement. While landlords don't have to make any exceptions for you, they'll be much more likely to help you out if you approach them before there's a problem rather than after you've missed a payment, etc.

Whether you're renting for three months or three years; these rules apply to anyone wanting to be a responsible renter.

Courtney Ronan is a freelance writer who contributes a weekly column profiling various communities. She also writes a weekly review of real estate related web sites.

Written by Courtney Ronan