One of the best ways to protect your interests as a landlord is to have a written lease agreement. A properly constructed lease agreement can mean the difference between getting stuck with a problem tenant and having the legal recourse to protect your property.
While generally a written lease agreement could help prevent a tenant from moving out early, there are common situations where a tenant can break the lease with no legal consequence.
Know the law.
Each state (and cities) has different laws regarding the management of property, and rights of landlords and tenants. Familiarize yourself with these laws before writing your lease agreement
Make it clear.
Confusing terms and a poorly written agreement can be misinterpreted and may not hold up in court. Put your stipulations in easy-to-understand terminology and explain anything that might be misconstrued.
Provide confirmation of the condition of the unit.
The lease should recite that the unit being leased is in good condition without damage or problems. It is always a good idea to take time stamped pictures of the unit prior to the tenant moving in to have detailed records of the condition.
Specify if you allow your tenants to have pets and if there are any restrictions. If you only allow a certain type of size of animal, state it here. Many landlords have an absolute prohibition on pets.
Right of entry.
Each state requires a specific amount of notice before a landlord may legally enter a rented dwelling. The standard amount of time is 24 hours, but some states require 48 or 72 hours’ notice. Check the laws in your state before including this in the agreement.
Spell out what will happen to the security deposit.
If you require your tenants to pay a deposit against damages, you will need to specifically state what is considered “damage” to the dwelling.
Clearly state the amount of rent and deposits.
Include the amount you will be charging for rent and any deposit amounts in your rental agreement. State when the rent is due and when it is considered late. This will help prevent misunderstandings and give you legal recourse if the tenant is continually late.
Repairs and what you will and will not cover.
As a landlord, it is your responsibility to provide repairs for fixtures, heating, and cooling equipment, and included appliances. However, in the lease, you can designate certain maintenance responsibilities on the part of the tenant. You can also hold the tenant responsible for repairs needed due to his or her negligence or wrongful acts.
If you have a code of conduct, include it in your rental agreement. This will provide your tenants with a clear idea of what they cannot do, and will protect your interests, should a tenant fail to follow your rules.
State what will happen if the lease agreement is breached by the tenant.
For example, if the tenant breaks the code of conduct or does not pay his or her rent on time, you can state that the landlord will have the right to terminate the lease and evict the tenant.
Another way that a tenant may get away with breaking the lease is when the landlord agrees to a change in the lease terms, and a chain-reaction follows. For instance, allowing one tenant to move out, and then prorating his or her portion of the security deposit could hamper the landlord’s rights to collect for property damage against the remaining tenants.
Sometimes a tenant wants to break the lease for purely personal reasons. Generally, a tenant is not legally allowed to do so. The landlord can fight back, and likely will be compensated under the lease agreement.
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