Landlords who have gone to court will tell you – there seems to be a bias against them when it comes to lease enforcement.
Sure, it’s not fair, but there is a basis for it: You were the one who provided the lease in the first place. You had the opportunity to get it right.
That’s why some judges show no mercy when there’s a mistake.
Unfortunately, a few errors are fatal when it comes to enforcing your lease. If you have committed any of these offenses, think twice before taking your case in front of a judge:
1. Signature screw-ups.
Your signature is not the one that matters. Unless you can show the judge your tenant’s signature on the lease, it is not a lease.
This can happen when you lose the original, don’t have all parties sign, or when the names listed as parties don’t match the signatures, for instance, allowing a spouse or parent to sign, or leasing to a corporation.
This mistake is easy to make when you use form leases, because the signature lines are often omitted, or not set for multiple signatures.
2. You let the tenant off the hook.
Now, you’ve opened the door to the tenant telling the judge that the lease is no longer binding. Don’t give the tenant the wrong impression when you try to work out problems with them. For an example, see Landlord’s Pet Policy Fails.
This is likely to happen when a tenant misses a payment and you try to work something out to avoid an eviction.
One safeguard is to provide in your lease that any modifications of the terms must be in writing with your signature to be valid.
3. You want to tell the judge about another term that is not in the lease.
If you negotiated something with your tenant, but then left it out of the lease, don’t bother asking the judge to enforce it. Honestly. You’ll just dig yourself in deeper.
4. Trying to enforce an illegal tenancy.
Enforcing your lease against three roommates in your single-family-zoned property, or going after future lease payments for your non-permitted apartment are lost causes.
5. Enforcing a lease that is not filled out.
So many forms list variables that it’s easy to forget to check all the boxes. “Rent is payable weekly, monthly, annually” — you need to pick one!
6. Contradictory terms.
If the tenant owes you $20,000 in rent, payable in monthly installments of $2,000 for one year, you’ve got trouble. The judge is not going to know what you meant.
Changing your lease for a specific tenant is always risky. At the very least, it requires that you read through the rest of the lease to make sure everything is consistent.
7. Asking for more than you are entitled to.
Don’t assume that you can charge interest, or claim attorneys’ fees, or even past due rent if your lease doesn’t spell it out correctly, or if you’ve breached the lease first, like in constructive eviction cases.
American Apartment Owners Association offers discounts on products and services for landlords related to your commercial housing investment, including real estate forms, tenant debt collection, tenant background checks, insurance and financing. Find out more at www.joinaaoa.org.