When it comes to writing a lease, every state and locality has its own set of rules and regulations. Nonetheless, there are certain general guidelines which you should follow to protect your interests and meet your legal obligations when writing up a lease.
Length of Lease
You need to clearly define the length of the lease, and specify any provisions for its automatic renewal. Be sure to include language allowing you to alter the terms of the lease at key points (i.e. the yearly anniversary of the lease signing).
Names and Status
It's important to make sure that each and every person who will be living in the property is explicitly included on the lease. Though it can be tempting to let one person "take charge" of the leasing arrangements, you still have legal liability for anybody living on your property, so you should make sure that they are all directly covered by the obligations of the lease.
Guests and Occupants
To avoid situations where new roommates or residents move into the apartment after the lease has been signed, it's important to include a section that sets a limit for the length of time that "guests" are allowed to occupy the residence before they become legally obligated members of the lease and/or trigger penalties for breaching the agreement.
Rent and Payments
Rent should be spelled out explicitly, along with clear information about when it is due, when it will be considered overdue, and what penalties will apply if the payment is late. Even if you plan on being a more generous and flexible landlord, it's still a good idea to keep the lease itself pretty iron-clad and strict.
Security and General Deposits
Make sure you include a description of any deposits that will be required, along with circumstances or activities that will allow you to penalize or hold that deposit if your tenants damage your property.
Be sure to include language specifying who's responsible for utility bills, whether it's you or the tenant. In most states, required utilities will be limited to electricity and water, although some may also require you to make gas or propane available for heating.
Pets and Property
Rules for pets should be made clear, including the type and number of pets allowed, and what the consequences are if they chew, scratch or otherwise damage your property. Special rules for your tenant's personal property should also be included. This could be any number of things, such as prohibiting of water beds, candles, open-coil heaters, backyard installations and anything else that needs to be covered.
Maintenance of Property
Although local sanitation laws will often cover this area, it's still important to include specific language about your tenant's responsibility for keeping the place looking neat and tidy. This includes taking out the trash, maintaining the lawn, and any other daily upkeep tasks. Don't be tempted to assume grown adults know how to handle themselves, because you could very well be held responsible for any code or sanitation laws they break.
In order to avoid potential lawsuits against you in the event of an accident, crime, or disaster, it's a good idea to insert a clause requiring your tenants to obtain renter's or leasing insurance to cover their personal property.
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