Whether you are renting month to month or yearly you should check the lease carefully before you sign. Things some landlords try to rope you in on could get you into a lot of trouble.
Some common sense could go hand in hand with this. If you don't know the guy your are leasing from you should check him out. Yes, the road goes both ways here.
Don't sign that lease when he wants you to, sign it after you check him out with the city or county you are looking to rent in. This will turn up any complaints people have registered with him about problems he might have being a landlord. If he has had complaints that are too far out for you to trust, then don't.
If the clerk you go to and ask knows the guy because of all the complaints, that's a big red flag for you. Go to the city hall and ask from the building codes and inspections if they have any problems with his properties. They should be able to tell you if he is overly a problem with them, tell them you are thinking of renting from him and is there a large number of problems with him.
If you explain to them, they will be able to help you out with general things like if he has a large number of complaints, they may not get specific but all you want is generals.
The dates you are moving in and any dates for things in the future need to be clear on the lease. If your are moving in and the rent is paid on a specific date this should be clear on the lease. Any late charges should also be there.
You need to get the exact amount of rent, deposit and any other payment for the property that you are responsible for. You want to have what you pay him for moving in clearly spelled out on the lease so you can know how much you have to hand him to move in.
This needs to be written because you want to be clear on how much is owed before taking the property, and then when you do pay him get a receipt. If it is a check, then the bank will get the check as one, but if it is in cash, get a receipt every time.