What Is Included in a Residential Lease Agreement
Whether you are renting a small apartment or a single family home, it is a good idea to ensure that you have a written lease agreement in place to memorialize the obligations and responsibilities of both you and your landlord.
Sometimes, such as when renting in an apartment complex or from a large commercial landlord, the terms of the lease agreement will be non-negotiable. If you want to rent the apartment, you will be stuck with the lease the way the landlord has prepared it. But other times, especially with an individual landlord, you may be able to make some modifications to the lease agreement.
In either case, it’s important for you to read your lease agreement carefully before signing it, and ensure that you understand what it contains. You may also want to consult with an attorney to review the lease with you. Below are some of the typical, important provisions included in most residential lease agreements.
Names of Landlord and Tenant
Your lease will list the name and address of the landlord and each tenant who will be renting the property. In some cases, the landlord will be represented by a management company, and the name and address of the management company will be included in the lease agreement.
Both you and the landlord (or the landlord’s agent) must sign the lease agreement, and it should be dated. If you intend to have a roommate or roommates, ensure that their names are also on the lease, so that they are legally responsible for their own obligations under the lease. Also, if you have a family, ensure you accurately identify how many people can live at the residence. Most times, landlords will not allow people not identified in the lease to live at the residence.
The lease should also specify whether you have the right to sublet or assign the lease to someone else, and whether the landlord has the right to screen and approve or deny any sub-tenants or assignees.
Length of Tenancy and Renewal
Leases can be for a fixed term or they can be on a “month to month” basis. In a month to month lease, you rent the home for a month at a time. With a fixed term lease, you agree that you will rent the home or apartment for a specified period of time—typically, a year.
The lease should also contain policies about renewal of the lease term – when you must notify the landlord about whether you intend to renew, when the landlord must advise if renewal is available, and what new terms might be included in the lease renewal, such as planned rent increases.
Month to month leases are renewed automatically at the end of the month unless you or your landlord give notice that you intend to terminate the lease. The lease should specify how far in advance each party must notify the other if they intend not to renew.
Rent, Security Deposit, and Other Payments
The lease will also specify the amount to be paid for rent. For an annual lease agreement, the lease should include the amount of the monthly rent payment, the date the monthly payment is due (for example, on the first of the month), how payment will be made (for example, by check or electronic transfer), and whether any late charges will be imposed if rent is not paid by a specified date.
Also, ensure that your lease outlines what is and is not included in the rent. For example, are utilities included? If so, which ones? Trash and refuse pick-up?
Most residential leases require a security deposit, in addition to the first month’s payment, at the beginning of the lease period. The security deposit is usually used to protect the landlord against any damage caused to the property by the tenant. The amount of the security deposit, what it will be used for, and the procedure and timing of its return should also be included in the lease agreement.
Obligation to Maintain
Generally, the landlord is responsible for keeping the property, including its structural and mechanical components and systems, in good operation and repair. But tenants have the obligation to take steps to maintain the property in good condition during the term of the lease. The lease should also specify whether you or your landlord has the obligation to maintain outdoor spaces—for example, mowing the lawn, shoveling snow, etc.
If you have pets, you want to ensure that your lease agreement permits you to have your pets on the property, and that your pets do not run afoul of any pet restrictions in the lease. Best practice is to identify your pets by type and size or weight in the lease, so there is no confusion on the issue (i.e. “two dogs weighing approximately 60 lbs each are permitted”).
Landlord’s Right to Enter the Property
Your lease may also address the circumstances under which the landlord or its representative can enter the property. For example, the landlord may need the right to enter the property to make necessary repairs, or to show the property to prospective new tenants at the end of the lease term. The lease should specify how much notice the landlord will provide to you before they enter the property.
Termination or Other Penalties
In addition to outlining the general lease terms and obligations, the lease should also specify the rights and remedies, including termination of the lease, available to you or the landlord if the lease terms are not complied with.
Other Rules and Statutes That May Govern Rental Obligations
Your lease agreement may not be the only document that governs your obligations as a tenant and/or the landlord’s responsibilities as a property owner.
If you live in a condominium, co-op, or neighborhood with a homeowner’s association, the rules of the association may also dictate what you can and cannot do in or on your property.
Additionally, there may be state and local laws governing the obligations of both landlords and tenants in your area. In some cases, the state or local law will override the lease agreement; in others, the state or local law will apply only if the lease does not address that issue. As a result, it is important to consult an attorney who is familiar with landlord-tenant law in your area before signing a lease agreement.
If you are thinking about renting, find a qualified landlord-tenant lawyer in your area on our site to help you with your lease agreement.
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