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Apartment Leases - What To Look For

HandelontheLaw.com Staff Writer

Wednesday, January 29, 2014



Apartment Leases - What To Look For
Lease Agreement

There are 2 basic types of apartment rental agreements: periodic rental agreements and leases. A periodic rental agreement is based on the length of time in days between rental payments: if the rent is to be paid every 7 days, it is a week-to-week rental agreement; if the rent is to be paid once per month, it is a month-to-month rental agreement. Due to the relatively short time of the tenancy, periodic rental agreements can be very simple, including basic terms such as: the amount of the rent and when it must/should be paid; the amount of advance notice the landlord/tenant must/should give before terminating the tenancy; the amount of advance notice the landlord must/should give to the tenant before changing the terms of the rental. Periodic rental agreements are often oral, though a written agreement upon which you can rely for your rights is preferable.

A lease states the total length of months that the rental will be in effect. While it is possible to rent an apartment with an oral (spoken) lease, leases for more than 1 year are typically required to be in writing. Some landlords will use preprinted leases; however, it is still possible to negotiate and add/subtract/alter elements of the lease before signing it and occupying the premises. Laws differ from state to state but written leases typically must/should or should have a number of elements:

1. Who’s Who The lease must/should include:

  • the names of the landlord and tenant;

  • the number of people allowed to live in the unit;

  • the name, address and phone number of the property’s authorized manager;

  • the name, address and telephone number of the person authorized to receive legal notices for the owner;

  • the name, address, and phone number of the person/entity to whom rent payments must/should be made;

  • the name, address and account number of any financial institution where rent must/should be paid


  • 2. Address The address of the rental unit, including the specific number/letter of the unit, must/should be included.

    3. Rent The lease must/should include:

  • the amount of the rent;

  • when the rent is due;

  • to whom the rent must/should be paid;

  • where the rent must/should be paid;

  • the usual days/hours that rent may be paid in person;

  • the form in which the rent must/should be paid (such as by check or money order)

  • Any required information for setting up electronic transfers of rental payments.


  • 4. Utilities The lease must/should include a designation of who is responsible for paying specific utilities, such as gas, electricity, water and trash collection.

    5. Security Deposit Most landlords will charge a security deposit, which can also referred to by some other name, such as last month’s rent, pet deposit, key fee, new tenant processing fee or cleaning fee. The lease must/should show the amount and purpose of the security deposit and cannot be called “nonrefundable” in the lease because the landlord must/should refund any amount he/she does not use for the state purposes in the lease. Security deposits are typically used if:

  • you move out owing rent;

  • you damage the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear

  • you do not restore personal property, such as keys or furniture, other than because of normal wear and tear;

  • you leave the unit less clean than when you moved in.


  • 6. Applicant Screening Fee You may be charged to cover the expense of obtaining information about you, such as credit reports or personal references. This is typically nonrefundable and is not considered part of any other deposit.

    7. New Tenant Processing Fee The landlord might also charge you to reimburse him/her for the costs of processing you as a new tenant, such as the costs of providing your application forms, listing the unit for rent, interviewing and screening you and other purposes. This is considered part of the Security Deposit.

    8. Penalties Charges, including but not limited to interest, for late payment of rent/other charges and charges for returned checks should be listed in the agreement.

    9. Pets The lease must/should indicate: whether pets are allowed; the number and types of pets allows; any deposit amounts required for pets.

    10. Furniture Furniture sometimes becomes an issue in rentals. The agreement must/should state: whether the apartment is furnished; if furnished, the basic furniture included in the rental; whether special furniture, such as water-filled furniture, is allowed; any special conditions required for special furniture.

    11. Additional Responsibilities If the rental unit consists of a house or duplex, the lease must/should: indicate who is responsible for taking care of the yard; if you will be responsible, the specific duties for taking care of the yard.

    12. Repairs During your initial inspection of the premises (before signing any lease, of course) you may find that certain aspects of the rental unit need to be repaired, replaced, fumigated, whathaveyou to make the premises habitable for you. In that case, the lease should list any promised repairs and the dates on which those repairs will be completed. Clearly, you should not rely on the landlord’s oral statement about any repairs, replacements, fumigation, whathaveyou.

    13. Landlord’s Entry The lease should indicate the conditions for the landlord’s entry into your rental unit for inspection, repairs, showing the premises to new prospective tenants or otherwise, including: the circumstances for inspection; the amount of notice that must be given to you beforehand, which must be “reasonable” (usually 1 – 2 days before, except in cases of emergency).

    14. Subletting At some point, you may wish to sublet your apartment to others. The lease should state: whether you can sublet the premises; if you can sublet, the conditions that must be met to sublet the premises.

    15. Parties and other Get-togethers In some circumstances, you will not be allowed to simply have a party or other gathering without advance permission from the landlord. In that case, the lease should specify: whether a party is allowed; if so, the timing and type of permission you must receive before having a party/get-together in the premises.

    16. Vehicles There are frequently too many vehicles and too few parking spaces. Consequently, the lease should indicate: whether your car can be parked on the premises; the number of your vehicles that can be parked on the premises; where and under what circumstances your vehicle(s) may be parked on the premises.

    17. Smoking Smoking is certainly a prominent issue in rentals. In some states, your landlord can completely ban you from smoking on the premises or can limit the areas in which you can smoke. The lease should include a provision indicating: whether smoking is allowed; if allowed, where it is allowed.

    18. Attorney’s Fees and Costs A certain number of leases end up in court over issues that cannot be resolved between landlords and tenants. The lease should have a provision regarding who will pay attorney’s fees and costs of suit in case you and your landlord end up in court.

    In addition to specific terms of the lease, the landlord/tenant has certain duties imposed by law that he/she cannot escape by having you sign them away in a lease. Consequently, when in doubt, consult/retain a lawyer who specializes in Real Estate Law about your rights as a landlord/tenant.


    DO’S AND DON’TS

    DON’T be intimidated by the process or the people.

    DO ensure that your rental agreement is written, especially if the tenancy is for more than 1 year.

    DO ensure that the lease includes:

  • the names of the landlord and tenant;

  • the number of people allowed to live in the unit;

  • the name, address and phone number of the property’s authorized manager;

  • the name, address and telephone number of the person authorized to receive legal notices for the owner;

  • the name, address, and phone number of the person/entity to whom rent payments must/should be made;

  • the name, address and account number of any financial institution where rent must/should be paid


  • DO ensure the lease includes the specific address and number/letter of the rental unit.

    DO include specific terms regarding rent, such as:

  • the amount of the rent;

  • when the rent is due;

  • to whom the rent must/should be paid;

  • where the rent must/should be paid;

  • the usual days/hours that rent may be paid in person;

  • the form in which the rent must/should be paid (such as by check or money order)

  • Any required information for setting up electronic transfers of rental payments.


  • DO designate the person responsible for specific utilities.

    DO include a refundable Security Deposit to be used if:

  • you move out owing rent;

  • you damage the rental unit beyond normal wear and tear

  • you do not restore personal property, such as keys or furniture, other than because of normal wear and tear;

  • you leave the unit less clean than when you moved in.


  • DO provide a nonrefundable applicant screening fee, if requested.

    DO pay a New Tenant Processing fee with the understanding that it is part of the Security Deposit.

    DO specify all penalties, including but not limited to interest, for late payment of rent/other charges and charges for returned checks.

    DO specify: whether pets are allowed; the number and types of pets allows; any deposit amounts required for pets.

    DO specify whether furniture is included and, if so, the basic furniture included; whether and under what circumstances special furniture is allowed.

    DO specify whether and to what extent the tenant is responsible for the yard.

    DO specify all repairs, replacements, fumigation, etc. to be completed by the landlord and the completion dates.

    DO specify the circumstances, notice and timing of the landlord’s entry into the rental unit.

    DO specify whether and under what circumstances the premises may be sublet.

    DO specify whether and under what circumstances parties/get-togethers are allowed.

    DO specify whether, where and under what circumstances the tenant’s vehicle(s) may be parked on the premises.

    DO specify whether and where smoking is allowed on the premises.

    DO specify who will pay any attorney’s fees and costs in the event of a suit between the landlord and tenant.

    DO consult/retain a lawyer who specializes in Real Estate Law if you are in doubt about the landlord’s or tenant’s responsibilities under the lease.


    By Kathy Catanzarite

    [Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]



    Source: Kathy Catanzarite - Handelonthelaw.com Staff Writer

    Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.





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