What is a lease?

A lease or rental agreement is a legal contract between a landlord and tenant.  The agreement gives the tenant the right to use and occupy the rental property for a specified period of time.  In return, the rental agreement requires the tenant to pay the landlord rent each month.  The lease also sets out the rights and obligations of the landlord-tenant relationship.

What Terms Should Be Included In A Written Lease?

A written agreement should include all terms that are required under a lease and other specified terms that may be otherwise material or ambiguous unless put in writing. Common written leases include the following:

  • Names of parties (including landlord, tenant, and other occupants)
  • Duration of tenancy (month-to-month, one year, five year, etc.)
  • Terms of rent (amount, date due, method of payment, late fees, grace period)
  • Terms of security deposit, if exists
  • Use of amenities (appliances, furniture, parking spaces, etc.)
  • Terms of use of the property (business, residential, etc)
  • Assigning responsibility for paying utilities
  • Terms of landlord repairs and maintenance
  • Events that cause default
  • Result of default of lease agreement
  • Terms at the end of the lease
  • Terms of possible future disputes (attorney’s fees, costs, mediation, etc.)
  • Conditions landlord may enter tenant’s rental property
  • Result of landlord death or sale of rental property
  • Other rules and regulations that applies to rental property (community rules, pets, quiet hours, other deposits, etc.)

Are There Any Differences In A Commercial Lease As Compared To A Residential Lease?

There are many similarities between residential and commercial leases, however there are differences as well.  Residential tenancies tend to be more regulated by state and local law than commercial rentals in order to ensure that residential rental property meets basic standards set by law regarding habitable living conditions and to fix certain rights and obligations of the parties.  Since housing is such a fundamental need, the law sets forth such minimum standards. 

On the other hand, commercial leases are for things like office space, a retail store, or storage/wharehouse use.  Commercial leases are viewed as contracts between knowledgeable business people who have had the opportunity to fully negotiate the terms of the rental.  As such, in most commercial situations the law provides that the rights and obligations of the parties are goverend by the terms of the lease.  Certain types of of commercial leases are more regulated by law than others, however, depending on the nature of the use intended for the lease and the particular business/industry.   

Can I Choose To Rent Only To White Tenants?

A landlord may not discriminate against tenants based on other factors such as their race, color, age, religion, national origin, gender, handicap, or familial status. Some states also extend these protections to marital status and sexual orientation.

If I Have To Sue My Landlord Who Pays the Legal Fees?

Usually, the lease will have a provision that states that the “prevailing” party in any lawsuit will be able to collect reasonable attorney fees.  Without this provision, each party pays their own attorney fees.

How Can I Get Out Of My Current Lease?

It depends.  If you are on a month-to-month lease, in most states you are required to give the landlord 30 days notice to end your lease (usually that notice will be given on the day that you pay your next month's rent).  If you have a lease for more than a month-to-month duration (for example a 6-month or 1-year lease) you lease may contain a provision for early termination.  Sometimes leases will provide for early termination of a lease in certain situations, for instance if the landlord agrees in writing to an early termination or if the landlord agrees to a sublease or assignment of the property.  If you don't get prior permission or your lease doesn't provide for early termination, then if you leave early you will be “breaching” the lease contract by leaving early.  When a tenant breaches a lase, by leaving early without permission or failing to pay rent due for remaining months of the lease, then the tenant may owe the landlord money for the remainder of the lease term or until the landlord can get anthother tenant.  A landlord may sue a tenant to recover any money owed for leaving early and breaching the lease.   

However, if the reason you like another place better than your current place is because the landlord has failed to provide a habitable space or otherwise has materially defaulted on his/her obligations under your lease, then you might be able to terminate the lease early depending on your state's laws.  

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

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