A residential lease is a specific type of legal agreement that is entered into when a tenant rents property from a landlord to use for residential purposes (i.e., living). Similar to other lease agreements, a residential lease will contain the terms and conditions of the lease, such as the date that the lease expires and how often the tenant will need to pay rent.

A residential lease agreement will also typically provide guidance on the various legal rights and obligations of the signed parties. Unlike commercial leases, a residential lease is specifically drafted to ensure that a residential property offers sufficiently habitable living conditions and that a landlord will not interfere with the rights of a residential tenant unless it is necessary.

In general, there are several different kinds of residential leases. For this particular article, however, we will mostly be discussing a residential lease that would apply to an apartment unit. When a residential lease agreement concerns an apartment, it will normally contain intricate contract clauses and may provide some information on the tenant-landlord laws of the jurisdiction in which the property sits.

Although you do not necessarily need to hire a lawyer to sign a residential lease, it certainly does not hurt to consult one. In some instances, it may be beneficial to work with a lawyer dealing with apartment leases. A lawyer can review the terms of your lease, can make sure that you understand its terms, and can confirm that there are no errors in the lease and/or other provisions that could put you at risk for legal liability.

A lawyer can also ensure that you are not agreeing to any terms that would constitute unfair bargaining practices and that the document is not forged or fraudulent. Additionally, if there is a lease condition that you would like to negotiate for or if a dispute arises over the lease, then your lawyer will also be able to represent your interests in court or at the negotiation table.

How Long Does the Lease Run?

The length of a residential lease will depend on three things: the terms the parties agreed to when they signed the residential lease, the laws of the jurisdiction in which the residential property is located, and the type of residential lease that was used to form the agreement.

In general, the majority of residential lease agreements are signed with the expectation that the tenant will reside on the property for at least one full year. However, residential lease agreements can be created for whatever period of time that the landlord and residential tenant agree upon. For example, a lease could run for one day, a week, one month, six months, and so forth.

The parties can also include conditions regarding how to renew the lease once it expires, whether the lease will automatically renew itself, what to do in the event of a breach, and how much notice a tenant or landlord must give the other before moving or renting out the apartment.

On the other hand, commercial leases tend to allow for longer rental periods than their residential counterparts. Oftentimes, the contracting parties will enter into a commercial lease agreement for as long as several years. This is in direct contrast to the standards of a residential lease, which are normally for one year or less.

The reason that commercial leases run so much longer than residential leases is so that a business does not have to keep interrupting its daily operations to move to a new commercial property every year. Having to relocate every year would also potentially hurt the business’s profits because customers would have to check that the business has not moved each time they want to frequent it.

What Limitations Does a Residential Lease Contain?

The limitation that a residential lease contains will depend on each individual lease. As with any contract, the parties can include any terms that they want, so long as they both agree to them. A residential lease may also include the restrictions that conform with the local housing code. Therefore, the limitations and possibilities included in a residential lease will extend as far as the parties want.

Some common limitations that a residential lease might have include:

  • A duty not to breach the lease;
  • A duty to keep all units in habitable condition;
  • A duty to respect the privacy of a tenant (with limited exceptions);
  • A duty to return the security deposit within a specified period after a lease expires; and
  • The tenant will have a duty to pay rent on time and to refrain from doing damage to the rental property.

What Will Happen at the End of the Residential Lease?

Depending on the terms of the residential lease, after a lease ends the tenant will typically have the option to renew the lease. However, the tenant will usually know one to three months in advance of the lease’s end date if they will have to move or not.

In most cases, a residential lease will stipulate at what point in the lease the tenant will need to notify the landlord about whether they want to renew or not. A tenant can lose their right to renew the lease if they do not notify the landlord within the specified time frame. A tenant may also need to pay damages if they do not tell their landlord far enough in advance that they intend to move out at the end of the lease.

The landlord will also have a duty to inform the tenant about any fees or increases in rent within a certain time frame. This is so that if the landlord raises the rent too high, then the tenant will still have time to look for a new apartment before their lease expires. The landlord must also approve a tenant’s request to renew their lease.

Now, if the parties did not form a residential lease and they have agreed to use a “tenancy at will” arrangement, then either party may terminate the lease at any time, so long as prior notice is given. With this type of arrangement, prior notice could be as short as one day.

What Will Happen If a Tenant Breaks the Residential Lease?

A tenant who breaks a residential lease before it is set to expire may face a number of legal consequences. For one, the landlord will be allowed to terminate the lease and can rent out the apartment to a new tenant. The landlord can also sue the previous tenant for any outstanding rent payments and can keep the tenant’s security deposit to make up for any missed rent payments.

If the tenant has not completely moved out by the time the residential lease expires, but they have breached the lease, then the landlord may call the county sheriff’s department or other law enforcement agency in the area to remove the tenant and any of their belongings. It should be noted that this particular remedy must be done in conjunction with or at least must not violate the requirements for eviction in the area that the property is located.

Additionally, the landlord can open the apartment to allow law enforcement to inspect the property and any of the tenant’s belongings without violating their constitutional rights. Accordingly, a tenant should strive to never breach a residential lease agreement unless the landlord permits it, the tenant has found a reputable tenant to replace them, or they are prepared to face the consequences.

What About Rent Payments?

If a lease is broken, the landlord will have a duty to mitigate the loss of rent payments. This means they will need to find another tenant to rent out the unit. A landlord may not prevent a new tenant from moving in solely to collect damages from the tenant who broke the lease. The landlord may also keep the original tenant’s security deposit to make up for the loss of rent and to make repairs if necessary.

In addition, if the tenant’s security deposit does not make up for the difference they still owe in rent, then the landlord may file a claim in their local small claims court to recover rent payments. However, the landlord can only collect the amount of rent owed up to the date that a new tenant takes over the prior tenant’s unit.

What Other Provisions Should Be Included?

There are certain items that every residential lease must contain, such as the name of the parties, the length of the tenancy, the amount of rent that is due each month, and so forth. However, there are some important provisions that the parties should include like the following:

  • Rules about having pets;
  • Restrictions on illegal activities;
  • Whether the landlord or the tenant will be responsible for repairs and maintenance;
  • Whether a tenant needs to obtain a renters insurance policy;
  • Whether the tenant is allowed to operate a business on the property;
  • Rules concerning smoking policies and other potentially disruptive activities like noise;
  • Clear terms regarding when a landlord is permitted to enter the premises;
  • Instructions concerning what a tenant must do to sublet their apartment and whether or not the landlord even permits sublets; and/or
  • Notice requirements and if there is an option to renew the lease.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Review My Apartment Lease?

You may want to hire a lawyer for apartment lease issues if they concern a breach of your residential lease agreement, the landlord has infringed upon your legal rights as a tenant, and/or if the problem needs to be resolved in court.

You should also hire a local landlord tenant lawyer to review the terms of a residential lease before you sign the agreement or if you plan on breaching your residential lease agreement, so you will know in advance about the consequences you might have to face.