How to change your lease or rental agreement
If you are renting a house or apartment, you likely have signed one of two main types of rental agreement:
- Lease agreement: this is for a set amount of time, often a year, and whatever conditions are established in the agreement last the length of the lease.
- Month-to-month rental agreement: these agreements have no fixed duration, and either the landlord or tenant can end the arrangement at any time, as long as they give proper notice. Changing either a lease agreement or rental agreement can pose certain challenges. Landlords cannot change a lease during the term of that lease without the tenant’s consent, but they can legally change a rental agreement on relatively short notice.
As a tenant, if you want changes to your lease or rental agreement, you have to get the landlord to agree, or consider whether it’s time to move out at the end of your term—or, if the situation is serious, to break the lease.
Who can make changes to a rental or lease agreement?
Either the landlord or the tenant may propose changes to the lease agreement or rental agreement.
For a rental agreement, changes can be made without the tenant’s consent, but with the legally required notice period before taking effect. A tenant can also propose changes, but the landlord is under no obligation to accept the proposed changes.
During a lease term, both parties must agree to and sign off on changes for them to be enforceable. This means, for example, that your landlord can’t legally raise the rent in the middle of a lease, unless the lease already states explicitly when rent would be raised and by how much.
What kinds of changes are allowed?
Changes must be legal under local, state, and federal law. Landlord-tenant laws prohibit lease provisions that try to limit your legal rights. For example, your rental agreement cannot state that you will accept responsibility for repair costs that are not your fault. But the landlord can raise the rent with written notice, although local laws may limit the amount of the rent raise.
A common change tenants seek is around pets. For example, you need a lease or rental agreement amendment if you want to get a dog and your agreement doesn’t give you permission to have one. You may be able to negotiate this change, particularly if you agree to a pet damage deposit.
Another common change is for who is listed on the agreement. A rental agreement or lease usually states the names of people who are allowed to live in the unit. If you want to add another person, or if a roommate wants to move out, ask your landlord for an amendment.
Note that in some states, the landlord can change the lease in minor ways without your consent. An example of this is changing the hours of access to amenities like a pool or deck.
When can changes be made?
Your landlord can change a rental agreement at any time during the term of the agreement, with or without your consent. Changes must be made with adequate notice; notice periods are 30 days in most states.
Changing a lease is harder because both parties must consent to almost any change. Therefore, it’s more common for leases to be changed between terms. For example, when you sign another lease at the end of the current lease, the landlord might raise the rent or increase the size of the security deposit.
Dealing with illegal changes
If your landlord makes illegal changes to your lease or rental agreement, or doesn’t give you proper notice of changes before they take effect, your first step is to inform the landlord of this, and cite the law you think applies. Sometimes people make honest mistakes and will correct them.
If the landlord disagrees with your assessment, and you still think the change is against the law, consult a local tenant-rights group or a lawyer with experience in landlord-tenant laws.