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Lease terms to include when renting

Cover all your bases with a comprehensive lease agreement

If you’ve decided to rent a new home or apartment, it is important to understand the terms set forth in the rental lease agreement. The lease agreement creates a contractual relationship between landlord and tenant, and therefore both parties are required to follow the terms it sets forth.

Before you sign the lease agreement, make sure you understand the terms below.

Identification of tenants, subletting, and guest policies

The first thing a proper lease agreement lists is the full names of those who will be responsible for the property for the duration of the lease term.

It also provides guidelines in the event a renter needs to get out of the lease or wants to sublet to another party. Known as a sublease, some properties allow renters to transfer the remainder of lease to someone else—while others strictly do not. In most cases, those properties that allow for this arrangement require the written consent of the landlord, and possibly a deposit or fee from the new tenant. Some landlords have a standard sublease agreement form, while others require the tenant to create their own.

Lastly, some properties maintain strict policies with regard to overnight or long-term guests, so be sure you understand the landlord’s rules with regard to these issues.

Rent, deposits, and length of lease

Equally as important are the rent, fees, and duration provisions, and this should appear unambiguously in the lease agreement. A set amount for rent should be included, as well as when rent is due, to whom it is payable, and where the check should be sent.

Additionally, a lease agreement must display the term of the lease, whether it be month-to-month or yearly. If this term is not included, most states will assume that the tenancy was month-to-month, and the landlord will be able to terminate the agreement at any time with just 30 days notice.

Security deposits are required in virtually every lease arrangement. However, the agreement should address specific reasons why a rent deposit could be withheld, as well as when a tenant should expect reimbursement of any security deposit funds at the end of the lease term.

As a related issue, a rental agreement must disclose and describe all fees related with the transaction, all of which must be legitimate expenses incurred by the landlord in the course of renting the property (e.g., credit reports or a reasonable application fee).

Upkeep, damage, and right of entry

Tenants have a duty to keep their unit reasonably clean and in good repair. However, damage or issues in the apartment are bound to occur, and a lease agreement should describe the proper protocol in the event of an issue.

First of all, what are the tenant’s duties with regard to trash disposal, cleaning, noise, smoking, candles, painting, etc.? These issues should be addressed.

Secondly, the lease agreement should describe the procedures in the event damage occurs that is not the fault of the renter, including who to call and when, when to expect repair, and what to do if a repair has not occurred within a reasonable amount of time. If this happens, the renter may be able to withhold rent or terminate the lease.

Lastly, landlords are generally not permitted to enter a leased unit without providing proper notice to the renter. While renters are generally not permitted to refuse entry, a tenant can demand entry only at a reasonable and convenient time.

While not common, landlords have been known to insert unlimited right-of-entry language into lease agreements that, if unnoticed, could give a landlord unlimited entitlement to show up unannounced.

Pets

Pet policies can range from all-inclusive to strictly forbidden, and many fall somewhere in between. Other than designated service animals, a landlord can restrict the size and/or breed of permissible animals—as well as outlaw pets all together.

In an apartment that allows pets, carefully review the agreement for policies on noise, clean-up, and whether you are permitted to walk the animal in common areas. A landlord is forbidden from refusing admittance to a service animal, regardless of whether a no-pets policy is in place.

Illegal disclaimers

In most jurisdictions, it is illegal for a landlord to include language insulating the property (and its owners) from liability in the event of a fall, serious injury, or death caused by negligent upkeep. If this language is found in a lease agreement, it is likely unenforceable anyway, but you may want to have it stricken from the agreement just in case.

Likewise, landlords are prohibited from attempting to deny federal and state laws designed to protect tenants, including anti-discrimination policies or applicable consumer protection statutes.

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