The time has finally arrived; you are moving out of your parents' home and into your first apartment. Or maybe this isn't your first move to a new rental home. Either way, you are over-the-top excited. You are packed, pretty much, and ready to go. There's just one more thing you have to take care of. You have to go and sign your residential lease agreement.
What, you are asking yourself, exactly is a residential lease agreement? Sure, you know it's your lease, but do you really need to sign one? Just how important is a residential lease agreement, anyway? How will you ever understand all that legalese? Let's see if we can help.
What Is a Residential Lease Agreement?
A residential lease agreement is the commonly used legal document between landlords and tenants. While they can adapt this lease agreement to meet the specific needs of landlords, it still must follow all applicable state regulations and contain all the required legal disclosures. The lease agreement establishes the rules that will be followed by both the tenant and the landlord.
You may also see a residential lease agreement written under one of these other names:
- Renters Agreement
- Apartment Lease Agreement
- Basic Rental Agreement
- House Lease Agreement
When to Sign a Residential Lease Agreement
You should sign a lease agreement if you will be renting any property that is considered livable. A livable property could include an apartment, a townhouse, a house, a mobile home, a condo, or even a single room. The lease will set the term, or the length of time you will live at the property, which is usually one year.
Who Should Sign a Residential Lease Agreement
A lease agreement should be signed by every adult who will living at the rental property. Each adult should be considered a tenant and be held responsible for an equal share of the rent, deposit, and any related fees. Each person is also equally responsible for the care and maintenance of the rental property.
Is There a Need for a Residential Lease Agreement?
The residential lease agreement puts the responsibilities of both the landlord and tenant in writing. This helps to keep confrontations to a minimum and, hopefully, helps to avoid any legal headaches. Both parties are protected by this legal document should a dispute arise. Below are some commonly disputed areas between landlords and tenants.
Repairs and Maintenance
Perhaps one of the biggest areas of misunderstanding between landlords and tenants is who is responsible for certain repairs and maintenance. This will be clearly defined in the lease agreement, and should be followed by both parties to limit confusion. If you are unsure if you are permitted to make a repair, contact your landlord first. Repairs and permanent changes, such as installing new cabinets or painting walls, should never be done by tenants without their landlord's approval.
Generally speaking, the tenant is responsible for keeping the property neat, clean and presentable. Also, he or she is responsible for repairing or paying for the repair of any damage caused by his or her own neglect. The tenant must notify the landlord if a major repair is needed.
The landlord is responsible for maintaining the safety and integrity of the property. He or she must repair any dangerous living condition and fix defective areas such as plumbing, major appliances (if included with the property) and heating and air conditioning. The landlord must inform the tenant of how to request a repair and how the repair will be handled.
Deposits and Fees
The end of the term has arrived, and that means that the question of what is to be done with the security deposit has come up. The standard security deposit on residential lease agreements is equal to one month's rent and is paid and the beginning of the lease. The lease agreement will state any reasons why the security deposit will not be refunded, for example, to pay for damage done to the property. It will state how long after the lease is ended, the landlord may hold the deposit before refunding it to allow for inspection of the property. The lease will also state whether or not the security deposit can be applied towards the last month's rent, which is not usually the case.
Fees can include a charge for a returned check, along with late payment fees. Cleaning fees may be applied at the end of the lease to pay for professional cleaning, and this will be clearly written in the lease agreement. Many landlords also charge a pet fee for those tenants who wish to bring their pet with them. This fee is to cover any potential, additional cleaning that may be required due to the presence of the pet. It will detail the amounts of the various fees in the lease agreement at the time it is signed.
The amount of rent for the term of the lease agreement will be agreed upon at the time the lease is signed. This amount cannot be arbitrarily changed by the landlord during the lease. The lease agreement will state the due date, acceptable forms of payment, and if there is a grace period. It will also specify if payment is to be made by mail, in person, or if either way is acceptable.
The residential lease agreement will specify the landlord's right to enter to property. The lease agreement will indicate whether the tenant needs to be present when the landlord enters. In most cases, the landlord has the right to enter the property in the absence of the tenant. It will state the amount of notice the landlord is required to give the tenant prior to entering the property.
FAQ'S on Residential Lease Agreements
What is the Difference Between a Month-to-Month and a Fixed-Term Lease?
A month-to-month lease obviously has a shorter time commitment. However, you are most likely going to pay a higher amount of rent. A fixed-term lease, such as a residential lease agreement, has a predetermined length of time, with a lower monthly payment.
Will I Have to Pay My Utilities?
Sometimes your utilities: electricity, heat, water, trash pickup, are included in your rent payment. There are other times when the tenant receives the bill directly. Discuss this with your landlord before signing your lease, so you will know what utilities you will be expected to pay.
Can I Move Someone in With Me?
Before you consider moving someone in with you, check with your landlord. Make an appointment to sit down and review the lease together to see if an additional tenant may be added. Your landlord will want to run a background check, and credit check on the potential roommate before approval is given. Most residential lease agreements allow for the addition of co-tenants upon the approval of the landlord.
Can I Have a Pet?
Permission to have a pet depends on your landlord. Some permit pets if you pay an additional fee, others do not permit pets at all. Those that do permit pets often have size restrictions and requirements that you keep the outdoor area cleared of any pet waste. Service animals, like seeing-eye dogs, are usually an exception to pet policies.
What if I Get a New Job During the Lease?
If the new job requires you to move a significant distance and you can no longer live at that property, you will forfeit your security deposit. Your landlord has the legal right to file a lawsuit for breaking a lease, holding you in breach of contract. This can make it difficult to rent a new property in the future. Be proactive, speak to your landlord in advance if you are aware that this is a possibility.
What if I Get an Eviction Notice?
Stay calm. Take your time and read the notice carefully, it should list the reason why you received it. Contact your landlord and see if you can find a solution to the problem. If you are behind on your rent, try to pay it and see if your landlord will let you stay. If there is another issue, find out what you need to do to fix it.
You do have time to find a solution, use it to your full advantage.
Residential lease agreements are important for the landlord and for the tenant. They provide the guidelines for both parties to follow to ensure a positive landlord/tenant relationship. They also provide legal protection to both parties should an irreconcilable dispute arise. So, now that you know more about residential lease agreements, you should have an easier time understanding yours when you go to sign it. Still, be sure to ask questions about anything and everything that you want clarified. Residential lease agreements can vary slightly from landlord to landlord, read carefully, make yourself informed, and be sure to understand the fine print before you sign.
Then, enjoy your new apartment. There's nothing quite like having a place you can call your own. Even if it is stacked high with boxes and kind of cluttered right now.