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What Should a Lease or Rental Agreement Include?

UPDATED: July 15, 2013

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Lease and rental agreements can and do differ from location to location, often depending on the rental property itself, the preferences of the owner(s), the competitiveness of the rental market in the area and the local laws governing rentals. Despite these differences, however, there are terms that can be found in almost every lease and rental agreement. Here are some of the most important terms, terms that no agreement should be without.

(1) the name of the landlord and the name of the tenant (and often the names of others who will occupy the rental property), as well as a description of the rental property subject to the lease

(2) the term of the lease (month-to-month, 1 year lease, 5 year lease, etc.)

(3) the amount of rent that the tenant must pay the landlord, and when that rent is due

(4) the particulars on the security deposit (how much, whether it is held at interest, and when it will be returned at the end of the lease)

(5) what can happen in the event of "default" - the failure of either party to live up to the terms of the agreement (such as the failure of the tenant to pay rent or the landlord to keep the rental property in habitable condition)

(6) whether the tenant must pay the landlord a late fee if the rent is not paid on time

(7) whether the tenant may operate a business out of the rental property (where local zoning ordinances at the particular rental property allow such activities)

(8) whether the tenant will be in default in the event that the tenant disturbs other tenants' "right of quiet enjoyment"

(9) the respective duties of the landlord and tenant regarding the maintenance of the rental property

(10) what happens at the end of the term of the lease (option to renew, conversion of lease to a lesser term, notice of termination by the tenant to the landlord)

(11) under what conditions may the landlord enter the rental property

(12) whether the tenant must pay the attorney fees and costs incurred in a lawsuit, in the event that a lawsuit is filed and the tenant loses (and conversely whether the landlord must pay the tenant's attorney fees and costs of a lawsuit that the landlord loses)

(13) whether the tenant may have a pet, and if so, what kind and how many. Whether an additional deposit is required.

(13) what happens if either the landlord dies or sells the building during the lease term.

Although there are many pre-printed lease forms, both the landlord and the tenant have the right to change the particular terms and conditions of the pre-printed lease. Lease forms, like all contracts, may be subject to negotiation between a prospective tenant and a landlord.

State and local laws can govern the terms of a lease. For example, state law often requires that the landlord must provide an "implied warranty of habitability" (that the landlord deliver and maintain the rental property in a condition suitable as residential housing, thus prohibiting a landlord from forcing a tenant to take possession of the property "as is"). Some local jurisdictions have enacted laws regarding "rent control" which governs how much the rent may be increased at the end of any given lease term.

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