I often get calls on leases from frustrated tenants who either are unhappy with a new landlord or do not wish to pay rent for varying reasons. My first question is always the same. What does the lease agreement state? The reality is that when disputes arise, that written agreement could provide most of the answers. So before signing, here are 10 things you should be aware of.
1. Are all rental agreements alike?
No. There are several kinds of rental agreements, including a lease for a specific time period or renting “month-to-month.”
A lease is for a definite period of time—generally one year. Unless you break the terms of the lease, the owner of your apartment or house (your landlord) cannot change the agreement or raise your rent—unless the lease says otherwise. The owner also cannot ask you to move until the lease period is up.
A month-to-month rental agreement is not for a set period of time. It continues until you decide to move or the owner asks you to leave. If you pay your rent monthly, you must give the owner 30 days written notice that you are moving. An owner who wants to raise your rent must inform you in writing 30 days ahead of time if the increase is 10 percent or less, and 60 days ahead of time if the increase is more than 10 percent. An owner who wants you to move must give you a written 30-day notice if you have lived in the rental property for one year or less. If you have lived in the rental property for more than a year, you must receive a 60-day written notice to vacate. (However, you and the owner may agree in writing to a shorter notice.)
2. Must rental agreements be in writing?
No. Leases and month-to-month agreements may be oral or written. However, a lease for more than one year generally must be in writing to be binding.
Written agreement. f you have a written agreement, read it carefully and make sure that you understand it. Sometimes a month-to-month agreement or lease mentions additional Rules and Regulations. Do not sign the agreement until you read the extra rules. Also, make sure that any blank spaces in the agreement are filled in or crossed out before you sign it. Ask for a copy that has both your signature and your landlord’s signature on it.
When you rent an apartment or house, ask for the name, address and phone number of the owner or the owner’s agent. You should have this information in case of an emergency, such as a broken water pipe or lost keys. You also should know where to reach the owner if you have a complaint.
In California, the law says that the names and addresses of the owner and manager must be on the rental agreement if the building has three or more apartments. This information can also be posted in the building in two places where tenants are likely to see it. If the owner’s address is not listed, talk to your building manager. The manager must fill in for the owner.
3. Can I change a written agreement?
You can make changes before you sign, as long as the owner agrees. Just cross out whatever the two of you agree to take out. Write in any additions. For instance, your agreement may say that your rent is due on the 10th of each month. If you want to pay it on the first of the month, you could ask the owner to make that change or cross it out. Both of you must initial all changes.
If the agreement states that everything in the apartment is in good repair, and you have not had a chance to inspect, write Subject to Inspection next to that paragraph.
4. Do I owe any money besides the rent?
You might. The owner has the right to ask for a number of fees and deposits. And you have the right to a receipt or written agreement that explains the charges and how you can get a refund later.
Although the law considers all deposits to be to security deposits; here are some of the payments that the owner might ask you to make:
- Last month’s rent in advance.
- Security deposit.
- Cleaning fee or deposit.
- Credit check fee.
The owner must return your security deposit no later than three weeks after you move, or tell you in writing why you will not get it back. He or she must also account for how your money was spent. An owner who needs to use part of the money for cleaning or repairs must return the balance to you.
5. What happens when my lease runs out?
Read your lease carefully. It may explain what you must do. For example, the lease may have an automatic-renewal clause. This means that if you are planning to move, you must tell the owner before the lease runs out. The clause applies to the owner as well; he or she also must ask you to move before the lease ends. Otherwise, the lease will be renewed for the same period of time as the original agreement.
Note: Automatic-renewal clauses and extension provisions are voidable if they do not appear in at least eight-point, boldface type. This is an example of eight-point, boldface type.