There are a lot of reasons landlords give tenants standard leases. Sometimes it’s just faster and easier to use an existing or standard lease. Standard leases help get a tenant in the space quickly, but they can also have drawbacks. Even when a lease is customized to meet the needs of both landlord and tenant, unclear language or unforeseen circumstances can derail a smooth rental experience.

Before Signing a Lease

Many part-time landlords face these situations. It is difficult to foresee in advance all the possible scenarios that may arise. It is important to use a checklist of important issues relating to your property so you can make sure all those issues are addressed in the lease. If you are using a standard lease, read through it to make sure that you understand what it is saying. Don't use language if you don't understand what it means.  

Make sure you are familiar with your state's landlord-tenant laws. There may be laws that are automatically added into every lease. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website contains links to current state laws. For example, Florida's laws can be found at the following location:

After Signing a Lease

You may need to amend your lease if you discover issues that need to be addressed. You may need to define words in the lease or assign responsibility for maintenance of the property.  If the change requires your tenant to do something that is not already required by the lease, the tenant must sign off on the change.  The document that the tenant signs will then become a part of the lease.

If you and your tenant do not agree on the meaning of the lease or if the lease is silent, it is best to try to find a solution that is satisfactory to both of you.  For example, If the dispute relates to repairs, you and the tenant could agree to split the cost of repairs or you could agree to rely on a decision of a third party as to who caused the damage. Reaching an agreement allows you to preserve your landlord-tenant relationship, keep your rental income and avoid the time and expense of court. If you believe that a lawsuit is your only recourse, then consider how a court would interpret the lease.

How Leases are Interpreted

In order to address these types of issues, it is important to understand how leases are interpreted by courts. Some of the techniques courts use to interpret leases include:

  • The four corners of the document - What does the paperwork actually say regarding the disputed provision? Courts look at the whole document for answers, not only in the section that contains the disputed provision. Any specific details take precedence over any general language.
  • The intent of the parties - When the document itself doesn't offer sufficient information, the court may be able to look outside the document for such information as the parties' previous actions and other written communications between the parties.

Equally important is the need to maintain a good relationship with your tenant. Tenants should feel like they are partners in the process of maintaining the property. Their involvement and interest in their home help landlords save time and money.


POSTED December 01 2014 12:33 PM

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