Q: I was recently given a lease to sign that seems outdated. What should a lease include these days in order to protect a tenant?
A: Leases, also known as rental agreements, are the vital link between your rights as a tenant and proof of rental circumstances.
While leases from the last century usually cover the basic nuts and bolts, newer leases should address newfangled inventions, such as remote controls, intercoms and security codes. New laws have also evolved and should be included, including lead notification and mold.
Since older leases sometimes neglect to mention modern details, misunderstandings can be a problem. As a result tenants were sometimes at a loss when a building was sold or management changed, especially if there was a verbal understanding of certain issues, such as assigned parking. Other problems arise simply from daily living issues, such as parking usage.
What should a modern lease include? Besides listing the exact mailing address of the unit, the start and end date of the lease should be specified. Some leases even specify what time of day the lease terminates, which saves you from being charged for an extra day if you depart by the listed time.
Sometimes a discount is given for rent, or the amount of rent is unclear. Be sure the lease spells out the exact rental amount for the unit and when it is due. Some leases provide a grace period, such as three days, before a late fee kicks in. Be careful, since some leases require the rent be paid exactly on the first of the month, or penalties can result.
Move-in costs should be detailed, too. If rent is pro-rated, the lease should indicate the amount. Be sure the amount of payment received by the landlord is detailed, along with the type of funds used, such as check, cash or money order. A money order or check is a safer bet for tenants to use at move-in, and a copy should be made before handing it over for payment.
Security deposit. The most contentious matter between landlord and tenant, deposit amount and usage should be explained in detail. State law usually limits deposit amounts, normally as a multiple of the actual rent. For example, in California, the deposit cannot exceed two months rent for unfurnished premises, or three months if the unit is furnished.
Some states have distinct laws regarding the use of security deposits, including how, when and where the deposit is to be applied. Under no circumstances can a lease contain information or requirements that are against the law. For example, if the lease requires leaving a non-refundable deposit, state law invalidates that clause.
What’s included and cost of replacement should be detailed in the lease. A security building may require a remote control for garage entry, plus a security key and/or for entry to the building. If the lease doesn’t specify the number of remotes issued, and replacement cost, there could be a problem when they claim you were given three remotes–at $40 each for loss.
While sneaking a pet in may seem like a harmless act, some leases stipulate that no animal or pet can be kept “on or about the premises without landlord’s prior written consent.” Some leases are silent on the subject, bringing trouble if a landlord says pets aren’t allowed. Instead of growling at each other, be sure pets are mentioned in the lease.
Returned check and late fee amount should be explained, along with when they apply. Late and bounce fee amounts are often regulated by state law.
Parking. Included or not? If included, where exactly is the assigned spot? How many spaces are included should be detailed as well. Is there an extra fee for parking overnight or if there is a guest?
Maintenance. Who pays for what? Does the landlord foot the bill if the intercom breaks or does the tenant? Maintenance requirements for all items included with the unit should be clearly explained in the lease.
Once casual and left silent in leases, specific laws in some areas now delineate entry, which should be reflected in the lease. As a general rule, emergency entry is allowed. Non-emergency entry should be defined in the lease to avoid misunderstandings later.
Use common sense when checking out the lease, and take the time to read the details line by line. If you have any questions or notice something missing, speak up before signing the lease document.