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Things That Should Be In Every Lease

A lease or rental agreement sets out the rules landlords and tenants agree to follow in their rental relationship. It is a legal contract, as well as an immensely practical document with crucial details, such as how long the tenant (you) can occupy the property and the amount of rent due each month. It needs to cover the basic terms of your tenancy.

Which Is Better, a Lease or a Rental Agreement?

Here are some of the most important items to cover.

  • Names of All Tenants
    Every adult who lives in the rental unit, including both members of a married couple, should be named as tenants and sign the lease or rental agreement. This can settle any rental payment disagreements with any roommates. This makes each of you legally responsible for all terms, including the full amount of the rent and the use of the property--meaning the landlord can legally seek the entire rent from any one of the tenants should the others skip out or be unable to pay.

  • Limits on Occupancy
    The agreement should clearly specify that the rental unit is the residence of only the tenants who have signed the lease (and their children). This guarantees the right to determine who lives in the property and to limit the number of occupants. The value of this clause is that it gives the landlord grounds to evict a tenant who moves in a friend or relative, or sublets the unit, without their permission.

  • Term of the Tenancy
    Every rental document should state whether it is a rental agreement or a fixed-term lease. What's the difference between the two? Both rental agreements and fixed-term leases cover basic details such as tenants names and rent provisions; they differ mainly in the length of the tenancy they create. Rental agreements usually run from month-to-month and self-renew unless terminated by the landlord or tenant. Leases, on the other hand, typically last a year. The choice will depend on the arrangement with your landlord.

  • Rent
    The lease or rental agreement should specify the amount of rent, when it is due (typically, the first of the month), and how it's to be paid, such as by mail to your office. To avoid confusion, there will be details such as: acceptable payment methods (such as personal check only) whether late fees will be due if rent is not paid on time, the amount of the fee, and whether or not there's any grace period, and any penalties if a rent check bounces.
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  • Deposits and Fees
    The use and return of security deposits is a frequent source of friction between landlords and tenants, especially in college environments. To avoid confusion and legal hassles, the lease or rental agreement should be clear on: the dollar amount of the security deposit how the deposit may be used (for example, for damage repair) and not used (such as for last month's rent) when and how the deposit will be returnedl and account for deductions after you move out, and any legal nonrefillable fees, such as for cleaning or pets. It's also a good idea (and legally required in a few states and cities) to include details on where the deposit is being held and whether interest on the deposit will be paid.

  • Repairs and Maintenance
    Clearly set out your and the landlord's responsibilities for repair and maintenance in your lease or rental agreement, including: the tenant's responsibility to keep the rental premises clean and sanitary and to pay for any damage caused by their abuse or neglect a requirement that you alert to defective or dangerous conditions in the rental property, specific details on procedures for handling complaint and repair requests, and restrictions on repairs and alterations, such as adding a built-in dishwasher, installing a burglar alarm system or painting walls without permission.

  • Entry to Rental Property
    To avoid tenant claims of illegal entry or violation of privacy rights, the lease or rental agreement should clarify legal right of access to the property--for example, to make repairs-- how much advance notice landlord will provide the tenant before entering.

  • Restrictions on Tenant Illegal Activity
    To avoid trouble among tenants, prevent property damage and limit exposure to lawsuits from residents and neighbors, include an explicit lease or rental agreement clause prohibiting disruptive behavior such as excessive noise and illegal activity such as drug dealing.

  • Other Important Rules and Restrictions
    Lease or rental agreement is clear on the subject of pets. If pets are allowed, there should be any special restrictions such as a limit on the size or number of pets, or a requirement that the tenant will keep the yard free of all animal waste. Any other legal restrictions, such as limits on the type of business a tenant may run from home, should also be spelled out in the lease or rental agreement. Important rules and regulations covering parking and use of common areas should be specifically incorporated in the lease or rental agreement.

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