A rental agreement is a contract between a tenant and a landlord that outlines the terms of use and possession of the rental property. A written rental agreement may be temporary, typically lasting for a 30 day period.

There are month-to-month rental agreements that are subject to automatic renewal at the end of the 30 day period. If a rental agreement is subject to an automatic renewal, a tenant is required to give the landlord a 30 day advance notice if they want to terminate the agreement.

The laws that govern rental agreements may vary widely by jurisdiction or state.

What Is Usually Contained in a Rental Agreement?

A rental agreement is typically provided by a landlord or property owner. The terms of a rental agreement may be customized to suit the individual needs of the renter.

Certain types of property owners, such as apartment associations, may provide a standardized rental agreement form. The terms of rental payments are often a main issue in rental agreements.

However, rental agreements may also address other issues, including:

  • Duration: How long the rental agreement will be enforceable. Leases are often for six months to one year, and rental agreements are often only month to month;
  • Rent: The amount of rent paid per month, when the rent must be paid, and what happens if the rent is not paid within a certain amount of days of the due date;
  • Terms of use: The agreement should state whether pets are allowed in the building, and enumerate the restriction on use. The majority of leases state that excessive noise and illegal activities are not permitted. Leases may also prohibit certain items, such as waterbeds or barbecues;
  • Occupancy: The agreement should state the maximum number of occupants that are permitted in the unit. In many lease, there is also a time limit on how long an overnight guest may stay;
  • Landlord Entry: The lease or rental agreement should lay out the requirements for the landlord to enter the unit. Landlords must provide notice to the tenant prior to entering the property. Landlords may also reserve the right of entry for maintenance and gardening;
  • Security deposit: The agreement should state the amount of the security deposit. The agreement should also state how the landlord may use the deposit, such as, for making repairs. Finally, the document should state how the deposit will be refunded to the tenant; and
  • Payment of utilities: The agreement should enumerate which utilities the tenant must pay for. Many landlords cover water and trash disposal, but electricity and telephone are usually left to the tenant to pay.

In certain cases, the terms of the rental agreement may be modified or renegotiated periodically. Once the parties sign the rental agreement, however, the terms will be binding under property and contract laws.

There are certain terms that are more common in residential leases, including:

  • Pets: Terms that address pets typically state:
    • whether pets are allowed;
    • whether keeping a pet will result in a higher rent;
    • and whether the security deposit will be higher as a result of having a pet in the residence;
  • Roommates: Terms covering roommates state who could be considered a roommate and whether roommates are allowed; and
  • Subletting: Subletting is when a tenant rents the property to another individual. Leases with a subletting clause state whether subletting is permitted, the extent of the landlord and the original tenant’s liability for the secondary tenants, and how much rent the secondary tenants owe.

What Happens if a Tenant Breaches a Rental Agreement?

If a tenant breaches a rental agreement, the landlord may be entitled to recover losses in a court of law. The most common dispute involving rental agreements usually involves a late or missing rent payment.

Once a rental agreement is signed, the renter is obligated to pay rent on time according to the terms outlined in the contract. Breaches of rental agreements may also occur in other areas, including:

  • Property damage beyond normal wear and tear;
  • Improper use of property;
  • Violations of sub-lease terms; and
  • Failure to pay deposits as required.

If an individual is a landlord, it may be helpful to gather evidence that will help prove the breach in a court of law, such as:

  • Photographs;
  • Receipts;
  • Insurance statements;
  • Repair bills; and
  • Any other important documents, such as the rental agreement itself.

For example, it may be helpful to gather payment logs and accounts if a tenant has not paid their rent on time or has not paid at all. It may also be helpful to consult with a lawyer for lease agreement disputes.

What Are Some Tips to Consider when Terminating a Lease?

Because leases are legally binding documents, tenants, in general, cannot cancel them except under specific circumstances. Landlords who fail to obey building codes do not typically warrant a tenant terminating a lease.

In addition, the failure of the landlord to maintain common areas, including courtyards, is also typically not cause for terminating a lease. In many cases, a landlord may release the tenant from their lease if they are able to find another suitable tenant to replace them.

If a tenant is experiencing domestic violence and must break their lease to escape the violence, it is considered a legally acceptable reason. If an individual is considering terminating their lease, there are several things they should consider.

If the tenant breaks the lease without legal grounds, they may be required to pay an early termination fee. In addition, depending on the terms of the lease, there may be a penalty for terminating the lease.

In serious cases, a landlord may take legal action against a tenant for breaking their lease. Tips to keep in mind when terminating a lease include, but may not be limited to:

  • Reading the lease thoroughly in order to determine their protocol for terminating the lease or what penalties the tenant may face;
  • Speak to the landlord, preferably through email, as they may be willing to work something out;
    Find a new renter if possible to take over your lease;
  • Consider any termination offers that are detailed in the lease;
  • Be prepared to pay an early termination fee or some other penalty for terminating a lease;
  • Consult with a tenant’s union, if possible;
  • Get everything in writing, to serve as evidence should any legal issues arise;
  • Be aware of any exceptions in which a tenant may terminate their lease; and
  • Consult with an attorney.

There are consequences for violating the terms of a lease for both landlords and tenants. Landlords may only use the security deposit to cover part of their costs, but it is often not sufficient.

A landlord and tenant may be able to work out these details in mediation and settle on an agreed amount. However, many of these types of cases end up in small claims court.

If a court believes that a tenant owes a landlord money for the lease terms, the tenant will be required to pay the resulting judgment.

How Can a Lawyer Help with a Rental Agreement?

A rental agreement is a vital tool for any property owner seeking to rent or lease their property. If you have any issues, questions, or concerns related to a rental agreement, it is important to consult with a landlord-tenant lawyer.

Your lawyer can help you draft or review a rental agreement to suit your business needs. If you are a tenant, your lawyer can review the agreement before you sign it.

If a legal issue arises related to your rental agreement, your attorney can help you recover damages in a court of law.