Your lease is what protects you. That is the place where you detail out what is expected from both the new tenant and what you will do in return. This is the document that you will refer back to for questions any any disputes that might pop up. Your lease is a binding, legal document that holds you and your new tenant together. You should never accept a tenant without a lease.
For most landlords and/or property managers, you likely have policies set up about your lease. You may choose to sit down face to face with your new tenant so that you may go over any particulars that they have questions over or you may subscribe to a service that allows electronic signatures that will save both you and your new tenant time. Whatever the case, a lease should always be signed by all adults involved in the renting of the apartment.
Landlords that choose to rent to family members or friends may think that they can do so without a lease between them. You may be able to get away with this, but it's always better safe than sorry. Many landlords and property managers will avoid renting to family and friends to begin with (simply because it brings with it its own set of problems), but should you choose to, remind your new renter that it's in both of your best interest to go ahead and put everything down in writing. This will not only keep everything in order (rent dates, what is due every month, length of the lease, what is allowed/disallowed in the property, etc etc...) so that you have something to refer back to if there are questions, but it will also bind you both so that neither of you may become lax in your duties just because there is a prior relationship there. This is a business transaction. Family, friend, or complete stranger, your tenant is your client and you must treat the relationship that way.
Sometimes there are unforeseen circumstances that will keep a tenant from being able to sign the lease. Perhaps they're moving from out of town and their things came in too early or too late, they can't make it out to your office, or any other number of excuses. You may think that you're safe from potential issues because they've paid their deposit, but you should remember that in most states a lack of lease translates to a month-to-month lease. Depending on your local laws, if they move in and stay a specific number of days there (even if they refuse to sign the lease at that point) they are your tenant and you will need to go through all of the legal steps to remove them, even if they're not paying by that point.
All in all, leases keep both a landlord and their tenant safe. They are meant to detail out policies so that both parties are well aware of what is expected and to bind both parties to those responsibilities by law. When you allow a tenant to move into your property without a lease, you're gambling with your investment and that could, potentially, cost you both money and stress in the long run.
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