Frequently, a homeowner contemplating renting out his property believes that he will be able to save money by writing his own lease or using a do-it-yourself lease form found or purchased online. Almost as frequently, the homeowner realizes too late that if he had spent a little money up front to have an attorney prepare a lease, or at least review his proposed lease, he could have saved himself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. By the time problems arise with a tenant, it is too late to ensure that the lease contains all of the provisions necessary to protect the homeowner’s interests.
For example, if the home in question was constructed before 1978, federal law requires that the lease must contain certain disclosures regarding the presence of lead-based paint and the homeowner must provide a prospective tenant with certain information about lead-based paint. Failure to make the proper disclosure or to provide the required information may make the entire lease unenforceable. Similarly, state law may require the homeowner to make disclosures regarding the presence of mold in the home.
Provisions for recovery of attorney’s fees are also often overlooked by do-it-yourself landlords. Under Virginia law, a plaintiff may recover attorney’s fees spent in pursuing a lawsuit only if a contract or statute provides that he may do so. If a landlord owns ten or fewer rental properties, the applicable Virginia landlord and tenant law does not provide for recovery of attorney’s fees by statute. Therefore, if the lease does not contain a provision for attorney’s fees, the landlord will pay for his own attorney if he has to sue.
The examples above are just a few of the many issues that could occur when a homeowner drafts his own lease. Having an attorney draft a lease for him would normally cost a few hundred dollars when doing it himself might eventually cost him thousands.