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LEASE 101


What is a lease?
  • A binding contract between tenant and landlord
  • A list of obligations of both parties including the move in/move out dates, the monthly rent amount, a list of any other fees payable by the tenant and a description of the landlord’s obligations such as making repairs to the premises and allowing you to live in the premises undisturbed.
  • Should be a written document, signed by both the landlord and the tenant.  Oral agreements tend to result in misunderstandings and disagreements about their terms.  
  • Be sure to read all of the terms of the lease before signing

Here are the four types:

  1. Fixed term: Ends on a specified date unless renewed by the parties before the termination date
  2. Self-extending: Renews itself until either party decides to cancel it
  3. Month to Month Tendency (Tenancy at Will): Rental agreement for a one-month period that automatically renews until terminated by one party
  4. Subleasing: Lease by a tenant of a part or all of a leased premises to another person but original tenant retaining some right or interest under the original lease 
So what DOES need to be laid out on a lease?

Conditions or Things that NEED to Be Addressed

  • Rent: how much for rent, when it is due, and if it can be increased within the duration of the lease. Consider discussing if each individual roommate is responsible for their share, versus the whole amount being due with penalty to everyone.
  • The landlord’s obligation to have the home be in compliance with the governmental health and safety codes.
  • Maintenance and repairs: should explicit state that the tenant is responsible for damage done by guests and themselves, but reasonable wear and tear is to be expected.

Details That Should Be on There 

  • Names and addresses:  this information should be included for both the landlord and the tenant(s).  
  • Term:  How long the lease lasts, i.e., the beginning and end date of the lease.  The lease should also explain the consequences if a tenant leaves before the end date of the lease.
  • Rent: the amount of rent, when it is due, if there is a grace period, penalties for late rent and whether (and under what circumstances) it can be increased during the term of the lease. If you have roommates consider including language in the lease that each individual roommate is responsible for their share.  That way, if there is a penalty for late payment, only the late payer will be responsible for the penalty.
  • Additional charges:  if you are required to pay for utilities (water, electricity, cable, telephone) it should be indicated in the lease along with the estimated cost and how the cost will be calculated each month.
  • Security Deposit: if you are required to provide a security deposit, it should be clear how much that will be, and what the terms are for returning this at the close of your lease (you should not be charged for normal "wear and tear".) See additional info below.
  • Up-to-Code: A statement that the landlord must ensure that the home is in compliance (and stays in compliance) with the all health and safety codes. They should also have a permit from the town to prove that the rental is legal and has been inspected.
  • Maintenance and repairs: be sure that the lease describes who is responsible for maintenance (such as lawn mowing, snow removal), and repairs.  Routine maintenance may be the tenant’s responsibility but significant repairs (unless required due to the tenant’s actions) and maintenance are usually the landlord’s responsibility. Additional item to address may be extermination costs, when applicable.
  • Notice:  This is will explain how the parties must notify each other (e.g., via certified mail) if formal notice is required.  It may also set forth how the landlord should notify you if they must enter the premises for inspection or repairs (landlords usually provide 24 hours’ notice before entering unless there is an emergency)
  • Subletting: If the landlord allows sublets, it should be indicated in the lease.  A sublet may require prior approval by the landlord.  As part of that approval the landlord may require information about the person you are subleasing to and may also require a security deposit from the sub-tenant. Please note that most of our area's local townships deem "rooms for rent" as an illegal practice. 
  • Renewal:   Some leases automatically renew and others may renew if certain steps are taken.  Be sure to read the lease carefully to determine if and how your lease may be renewed.  If the lease may be renewed, it should spell out how to go about requesting a renewal. 
  • Description of the property:  There may be other buildings, rooms, parking spaces and/or common areas that you may or may not have access to.  A description of the area/property you are renting will avoid confusion and misunderstandings about this issue. Furthermore, any furnishings that come with the rental should be listed, along with condition upon beginning of lease.
  • Pets:  the lease should provide whether pets are allowed.  If pets are allowed the landlord may require additional security deposit to cover any damage the pet may cause.

 

What Should NOT Be There 

  • Waiver of Liability” for landlord’s actions.  Each party (the Landlord and the Tenant) should take responsibility for any negative effects of their own actions
  • Waiver of warranty of habitability.  Every residential lease impliedly contains a warranty of habitability.  This means that the premises will be fit for human habitations (pest and rodent-free) and will not contain conditions which endanger a tenant’’ health or safety.  This warranty should not be waived by the tenant.
  • Waiver of duty to repair”.  A reputable landlord will be willing to make necessary repairs to the property.
  • Anything that includes hidden fees.
  • Anything that jeopardizes your rights or safety

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

If there is language in the lease that you don’t want to agree to, talk to the landlord to see if they will agree to remove the language.  Once all of the terms of the lease have all been agreed upon and the lease has been signed by both parties, you should keep a signed copy, and consider scanning it to your computer. 

What is a security deposit?

A security deposit is a sum of money (usually equal to one month’s rent) paid by a tenant at the beginning of the lease term.  It is separate from rent and is meant to protect the landlord in the event there is unpaid rent or damage to the premises at the end of the lease term.  The lease will set forth the conditions under which the security deposit is returned to the tenant at the end of the lease term.  Document any damage to the premises before you move in by photographing the premises.  If there are significant repairs that need to be made or appliances that don’t work, make a list of all of them and have the landlord sign the list so there is no dispute when you move out.

Tips for the Security Deposit

  • If the home has been treated for bed bugs, or if the property has lead based hazards, the landlord must tell you. They also must provide you with a list of existing damage, if any.
  • Take pictures when you move in or out to avoid any issues.
  • The money must be returned to the tenant in a reasonable time, about 30-45 days after you move out.
  • If they do make a deduction, there must be a sworn list made by the landlord explaining them. They need to provide evidence and include documentation of the cost of cleaning or repairing damage. 
Other Tips!

Here’s how to create and maintain a healthy relationship with a landlord, and what to do in the event you need help. This is stuff you need to discuss with a potential or current landlord, as well as things to know for yourself.

Utilities

  • You have the right to know energy costs for the living unit before you rent (ask for billings on your unit from the past 12 months)
  • Make sure utilities and appliances are in working order and that landlord agrees to fix building systems that are not working properly
  • Know how to control your utilities and who to call in the event of a problem. This includes the breakers, the boiler, the water meter, and anything else that maintains your home.

Safety and Legal Information

  • Check to make sure the property has the appropriate smoke and carbon monoxide detectors and that they are either hard-wired into the electric system of the home or have fresh batteries.
  • Owners of buildings built before 1978 must tell you of any known lead-based hazards and show you relevant records before you rent (Important for small children)
  • Try to check out the neighborhood at different times of the day.  There may be safety and/or noise issues that become apparent at different times of the day.
  • Check if the windows and entrances all lock and are working. None should be broken.
  • You cannot be evicted without a full legal process. If you have been illegally evicted or locked out by your landlord, call the police.
  • If you are unsure about your rights as a tenant, consult a lawyer
  • Generally it’s a bad idea to put money down to “hold the apartment”. There’s a high chance you won’t get it back.
  • Know where Small Claims Court is located and where to file complaint online
  • Know where Landlord/Tenant Court is located
  • If you are having problems with your landlord, communicate in writing, either via email or postal service.  If the problems worsen, you should consider contacting a lawyer.
  • Consider getting renter’s insurance. You and your possessions are not covered by the landlord’s insurance.  Renter’s insurance typically cover damage caused by fire, theft, vandalism, utility malfunctions (plumbing and electricity), weather related damage and other hazards. 
  • Never resort to violence or physical confrontation with your landlord or fellow tenants.
  • Once your landlord receives your security deposit, s/he must provide you with a list of any existing damages or certified violations of the Sanitary Housing Code. It is best to hold the list for the entire 15 day period before signing because some potential damages like a leaky roof are not readily noticeable.

Good luck! We hope this helped you to make safe and informed choices when living in your rental.

Credit to Phil Solages, Attorney at Law at Solages & Solages

Nothing contained in this document should be construed as legal advice.
It is recommended that you consult with an attorney before you enter into any binding agreement such as a lease.  


 LEASES, LANDLORDS, AND YOU

Signing a lease agreement can be a difficult and intimidating process if you are not familiar with the pitfalls.

The Leases, Landlords, and You workshop offers students who are considering living off campus detailed information on what to look for in a legal lease, insights into living in the community, and what it takes to be a good neighbor.

FALL 2015 WORKSHOP: TBD


Spring 2014: Leases, Landlords, and You Workshop

Fall 2014: Leases, Landlords, and You Workshop


Next: Security Deposits
See www.stonybrook.edu/titleix for more information and/or to report an incident.