Leases: The Important Stuff

Do You Need a Written Lease?

A lease is a document that details your and your landlord’s respective rights and responsibilities. It is for your protection, as much as it is for your landlord’s. While many states allow verbal leases and rental agreements, you may end up in court if there is a dispute and you could wind up losing your apartment. Worse yet, once you’ve been party to a landlord dispute in court, many landlords will not rent to you in the future. So, the key thing to remember about anything to do with leases and rental agreements is:

GET IT IN WRITING!

The laws regarding all real estate matters are tricky and vary by state, but a lease will usually specify:

  • How long you can occupy the apartment
  • How much rent you have to pay and when
  • The size of the security deposit, and whether it collects interest
  • Who pays for utilities (gas, electric, internet access, etc.)
  • Who is allowed to live in the apartment
  • Whether you can have pets
  • Whether you can sublet the apartment
  • When and how the landlord has access to the apartment
  • Whether you can paint or do other home improvements

Month-to-Month Rental Agreement

A short-term agreement between you and the landlord is called a rental agreement or a month-to-month lease, and it renews automatically until either party terminates it. You should get these agreements in writing, too. The downside of these short-term agreements is that your rent can go up unexpectedly or you may have to move on a short notice. The upside is that if you find a better deal elsewhere you can usually get out on 30-days notice.

Protect Your Security Deposit

Before you move in, walk through the apartment with the landlord or his/her representative and write down everything that is broken and requires repair. Date the list and have the landlord or his representative initial it. This can protect you at the end of your lease if the landlord tries to blame you for the damage and withhold the security deposit.

TIP: It doesn’t hurt to take some pictures during your pre-move walk-through. Date them and keep them with the notes. If it comes to your cameraphone shot against the landlord’s recollection, you’ll win.

Roommate Leases: The Legal Points

When two or more people want to share an apartment as roommates they often sign a lease as co-tenants. The key phrase to look for in such a lease agreement is whether it says that each roommate is responsible “jointly and severally” for adhering to the terms of the lease, including the payment of rent. What this means is that if your roommate skips town, you’ll have to pay his or her share of the rent or if the roommate damages the property and doesn’t pay, you’ll have to pony up. Even worse, you could get evicted because of your roommate’s behavior. Another legal point to remember with a co-signed lease is that you cannot evict your deadbeat roommate, only your landlord can. Just one more reason to pick your roommates carefully!

TIP: If you have sufficient income to rent the apartment on your own and – with your landlord’s written permission – take a roommate, you’ll have more flexibility. You can then draft a written roommate contract with your own terms and if things go south you can kick your roommate out the door.
Author My First Apartment

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