The lease is a fundamental component of the tenant/landlord relationship. While there is no one size fits all solution to a lease most leases cover the same ground. Some landlords prefer a lengthy and explicit lease, while other landlords prefer brevity, regardless a landlord should review and stick to a lease that they know and feel comfortable with.
Most written leases contain the following items:
A description of the property the tenant is renting.
This is merely an address of the property and/or unit number if applicable. It is very important to make the description as specific as possible as it will become material if an eviction suit is carried out or if there is any debate about what is in fact being rented. Oftentimes tenants start to store belongings in parts of the property that they do not have rights to — hallways, basements; this can lead to health and safety issues. It is important for the landlord to be as precise as possible out what the tenant is entitled to.
The length of time the tenant will be allowed to live in the unit
In the residential rental market the preferred term is one year. The term of the lease governs the landlords ability to raise rents. During the term of the lease the landlord is prohibited from raising the rent. If the term is for one year then the landlord can not raise the rent for that period. If it is month to month the landlord is free to raise rent at the end of the term. However the landlord and the tenant are free to negotiations any time period they want so long as both parties agree to it.
The landlord’s name and the tenant’s name.
As the main parties of the agreement it is very important that the landlord and tenant are named. When a landlord rents a unit to a tenant, he transfers to the tenant what is called “exclusive possession” of the rented property. Exclusive possession gives the tenant the right to decide who will occupy the apartment. As a result, any person occupying with the consent of the tenant is in lawful occupancy and is not a trespasser or squatter, regardless of whether the landlord is aware of the occupancy. The landlord can, however, limit the right of the tenant to admit other occupants or guests by including restrictions in the tenant’s lease. Even if there are restrictions on who can occupy the tenant the landlord would have to utilize housing court to remove unauthorized occupants.
The amount of rent, the date the rent is due and any late charges for late payments of rent;
The lease should clearly state the amount of the late fee and the date that it starts to accrue. In Connecticut there is a rental grace period between the 1-10 of the month. Any rents received after this date are liable to be assessed a late fee. The late fee should be set in the lease and should reflect a reasonable penalty for the added administration burden of dealing with late rents. The most important component of the late fee is the collection process and the follow up. If late fee collections is not promptly enforced then the landlord will have a hard time collecting any late fees.
The landlord’s rules and regulations.
The house rules are usually designed to foster a coherent and happy community where many tenants can peacefully reside. I rules can govern everything from trash removal to storage to anything in between. The landlord has a lot of authority on what he can and can’t allow on his property so long as they are reasonable and apply to everyone.
The tenant’s rights and responsibilities.
- Follow all housing and fire codes that apply to the tenant.
- Keep your apartment clean and safe, including sinks, toilets, tubs, and appliances.
- Put all trash in the appropriate containers.
- Use all services and facilities (such as the elevator, laundry room, and heating) reasonably.
- Not destroy, damage, or take any property or allow anyone else to do so. You may have to pay the landlord if you, your family, or your guests cause damage that is more than normal wear and tear.
- Take responsibility for the way your guests behave when they are visiting you.
- Not disturb your neighbors or allow any of your guests to do so.
- Obey the landlord’s rules if they are reasonable, clear, apply to all tenants, and you were told about them.
- Pay the rent, even if your apartment needs repairs, unless a court says otherwise.
- Let the landlord into your apartment if the request to go in is reasonable.
Who will pay for utility services (electric, fuel, cable, and others), whether or not payment of utilities is included in the rent charge;
The lease must clearly state who is responsible for paying the utility bills. Usually the inclusion/exclusion of utility bills is a fundamental part of the marketing approach for the property. However the utility burden must be formally memorialized in the lease. The tenant is only responsible for utilities that power the rented unit and the tenant cannot pay for common areas.
The amount of the security deposit.
This is governed by Connecticut state law. The maximum amount is two months rent, however senior citizens are limited to one month. The security deposit must be properly escrowed and accounted for.
A written lease may also contain one or more of the following items:
Sublease arrangements (terms under which the tenant may rent the apartment to someone else); laundry and recreational facilities (whether any are included); and which appliances (stove, refrigerator, and others), if any, are provided by the landlord.
If there is no written lease, the landlord and tenant may agree upon terms orally.
An oral agreement is made between the landlord and tenant after they discuss rental items. It is usually a month to month agreement – that is, the rent is paid on a monthly basis and the lease continues without a final date until the landlord or the tenant ends it.
Matthew Hughes is the Broker/owner of Farm River Property Management LLC. Matthew works with landlords and property owners to create value in today’s competitive real estate market. His business provides full services property management, brokerage and leasing services. He has personally marketed over 160 properties in Greater New Haven area