What Should Be Included in a Residential Lease?

The lease controls the duties of both landlord and tenant. At a minimum, this rental form will:

List all of the occupants of the rental property. Each adult occupant should be listed as a tenant;

Set out the amount of rent that is owed, and how the rent is going to be paid. Late fees, bounced check charges, and other provisions will be included to encourage on-time rent payment. Additionally, provisions will spell out security deposit terms;

The lease must cover day-to-day issues, including subletting long-term guests, and maintenance or repair issues.

The residential lease also will include provisions regarding eviction of the tenant. In today’s environment, it’s important that a landlord can evict the tenant who is disruptive or commits a crime on the property.

Some provisions in a residential lease form seem unnecessary, buried deep in the fine print. But those little provisions carry a lot of weight.

Unfortunately, some leasing errors occur simply because the landlord omits or modifies paragraphs in the “boiler plate”” those seemingly unimportant provisions at the end of most rental forms that no one ever reads.

But by making changes to the fine print, a landlord could change the inevitable outcome of a lease dispute.

Here are a few things to watch out for:

Your signature on the lease is not the one that matters. Unless you can show the tenant’s signature on the lease, it is not a lease.

Be especially careful when using fax or email that you don’t forget that signature on the dotted line. If the signature gets dropped, the same may be true of your legal options. Also, when using online landlord forms, be sure to tailor the signature lines — which may be blank — by creating a printed signature block with the tenant’s name and information.

Landlords and tenants often speak in person after the lease is signed. Misunderstandings can lead to disputes over the contract terms. One important safeguard is to provide in your lease that any modifications of the terms must be in writing, with signatures, to be valid.

Buried in the fine print, the modification clause restricts verbal modifications. If your tenant gets the wrong impression that you have changed the lease, with the modification clause in place, chances are they can’t bring up that argument.

Often a lease is more than one document. There are add-ons, like house rules, a no-smoking policy, pet addendum, disclosure pages, or other landlord forms. An integration clause is a piece of fine print that serves as a legal paper clip, tying all those documents together.

At the same time, the clause prohibits the tenant from slipping in other pages that they claim were a part of the leasing forms. Look for language that provides that the lease being signed ” and all attached pages, make up the full and final agreement between the parties.

A severability clause states that if one provision of the lease is deemed illegal, the rest of it can stand. While this seems like legal mumbo jumbo, this clause can save the day in a situation where an inadvertent illegality is not central to the rental form. Without it, the entire lease could be unenforceable.

Many lease forms place the all-important remedies provisions of the lease in the fine print. This can create the impression that these terms do not have to be customized.

For example, don’t assume that you can evict a tenant, charge interest, add attorney’s fees, or the costs of a dispute to the claim against a tenant without first checking your local law. These terms must be included in your leasing forms, but at the same time, they cannot contradict the law. If they do, let’s hope that you have a severability clause!