Whenever you sign a rental agreement or a lease, you’ve probably noticed that sometimes, they’re very short- while other times, they can be as long as ten pages or better. Sometimes, these agreements are fairly straight to the point and other times, it looks like something out of Law and Order: Rental Agreement and you may be sitting there looking it over waiting for that signature theme song.
Many property managers use pre-made forms, but not all do. Of course if you look at these agreements you will notice that they all contain certain things- sort of a bare bones, this is the agreement littered with a lot of their own terms, if they have any. This is fairly normal, but there are some things that may be there- that are totally fine, and other things that are legally iffy. Now, also bear in mind, just because your landlord hands you a rental agreement that reminds you of Rosemary’s Baby a little, that doesn’t mean they’re awesome. Or, horrible people. You saw the movie. Sometimes, it just means they don’t understand the laws, other times, well, again- that movie doesn’t end well. (If you haven’t- come on, Mia Farrow? You should.)
Mostly, you’ll find that there are a few standard things:
Contact information for you, and any other tenants, as well as that of the landlord. In the contact, it’ll probably be spelled out lessee and lessor– or, being the landlord, ee, being you and anyone else that’s renting. It may also refer to the people involved as parties.
Details about the premises themselves. Premises being the property you will be renting. This will be the address, any furnishings, parking, storage or other amenities that come along with.
Terms of the rental itself. Your lease or rental agreement should have when it begins and when it ends. Usually, it’s a year. In month to month rentals, that will also be specified. Rent prices. Most rental agreements or leases will actually specify the monthly rent amount, when you should pay it, how you should pay it, and any late fees. If this isn’t a part of your rental agreement or lease- you may want to ask for a revision. It’s always best to have these terms in writing.
Any deposits or other fees that might be involved.
Utility pay. Generally speaking there should be something in there about who pays what utilities. Sometimes, landlords will pay for certain utilities, while tenants are responsible for other services.
Unit condition. This is just a clause that will state that the premises are habitable and that you will let the landlord know if that changes for any reason. Your responsibilities in terms of maintaining or repairing things on the property. Usually, all this is, is a statement that you will keep things clean and in decent condition during the course of your lease. It also will specify what obligations you have if you don’t. Often, if you aren’t allowed to do things like painting or other things like that without landlord permission- you’ll find that here.
Privacy. This one is all about when the landlord may enter, and how. Pay close attention to this one because there are laws in place to protect you. If there is an emergency, it’s one thing. Repairs and otherwise do usually require some amount of notice.
Now this one you might think is something that cannot be part of a contract- but there are actually legal things that landlords and property managers are well within their rights to ask that you not do. For instance, not using the parking lot to store broken down cars, not having or selling illegal drugs, or otherwise criminal activities. Others may prohibit things like smoking or you know, having a disgruntled tennis client pulling your deck off and blowing it up. Or driving cars through buildings, having huge fights in yards, and so on.
Occupancy restrictions. Here is another area where you’ll find some simply don’t know what they’re allowed to specify and what they are not. A landlord most definitely can set limits on the number of people living in a rental unit. However, they are not entitled to do so if that number is considered unreasonable. What is unreasonable? Well, Federal law states that landlords are to allow at least 2 people per bedroom unless there is a justifiable reason for that number being lower. This is, however, extremely rare and very difficult to do- so, anything less than 2 occupants per bedroom? Probably not a legal specification for them to be making.They also cannot specify things like “no children” unless they are a specialized community. (Usually a retirement community.) Family size is also a protected class.
Pet policies. It is also well within the rights of a landlord to either outright prohibit all pets, or even to just be very restrictive in the types that are allowed. Service animals do fall under the Fair Housing Act, and so, if you have someone telling you that you cannot have yours- they are more than likely incorrect.
Other common clauses you will find are no assignment clauses- these prevent you from subletting the apartment or unit when you’re away without their consent. Guest stay limitations, which is fairly normal, and a clause about attorneys fees in the event of a lawsuit. You will also likely find a section about termination of your lease and what happens there. These are just a handful of the different but more common clauses you will find in a lease or rental agreement. If you are looking at yours and something looks a bit iffy, you may want to consult a real estate attorney for more appropriate advice based on that situation.