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How to Properly Document Changes to a Lease Agreement

Lease Agreements are supposed to last until the end date given in the agreement, unless it is a month-to-month lease. This is to provide a clear beginning and end date to the term of the lease and to protect both the landlord and the tenant. There are other important terms in a Lease Agreement, usually having to do with rent payments, security deposits, maintenance, and specifics about how many tenants are on the lease. Because these terms are central to the rental agreement, they may not be considered legally changed by the landlord or the tenant without the other party agreeing to the change in writing. 

There are many situations where both the landlord and the tenant want to change the lease because it benefits both of them. That can be done, but it pays to document it properly.

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Why do I need to document lease changes?

A lease is a legally binding contract between a landlord and one or more tenants. If there’s ever a dispute, the judge will go by the written lease unless there’s evidence that the lease was changed. For example, a lease might say no pets but the landlord verbally allowed the tenant to bring home a dog. If the landlord later tries to evict the tenant for violating the no pets provision of the lease, it’s the tenant’s word against the landlord’s and the signed lease. Or, one party might say there was a verbal change when there wasn’t. That’s not a position you want to be in. Even if you both agree now and you don’t think it will be a problem, get it in writing just to be sure.

How do I make changes to my lease?

There are two main ways to change a lease.

  • You can replace the lease with a new lease.
  • You can sign an amendment to the original lease.

Signing a new lease is just like starting from the beginning. The landlord and tenant write up and sign a completely new lease covering all of the new terms, if any, that they are agreeing to. This will often be mostly the same wording of the original lease with a few terms added or removed, but the original lease will no longer be valid if you’ve replaced it. That applies even if a term from the original lease wasn’t considered by the new lease. To show that you’re canceling the original lease and putting a new lease into effect, you’d want to include language that both parties agree to cancel the original lease.

You can also agree to sign a Lease Amendment. This is often called an addendum, but the name isn’t really important. What’s important is that both the landlord and tenant sign a document stating that they intend to make a specific change to an existing lease. For example, the original lease might say no pets. The landlord might agree to allow the tenant to have a dog if they pay $50 per month in pet rent. If the landlord and tenant sign an addendum to that effect, all the original terms of the lease remain in effect except the no pets provision, which gets replaced by the addendum.

How do I add a pet to my lease?

It’s pretty common for a tenant who didn’t have pets when they moved in to want to bring one home. Landlords, of course, may have concerns about damage or disturbing other tenants. Whether you agree to sign a new lease or add a Pet Addendum, consider including these terms:

  • Pet rent
  • Types of pets allowed (cats but no dogs, dogs but no cats, birds but no dogs, etc.)
  • Additional refundable or nonrefundable deposit
  • Number of pets
  • Size and breed restrictions
  • Requiring individual pets to be on the lease

How do I add another tenant to my lease?

Most leases require any additional tenants to be on the lease. That’s because a landlord usually doesn’t want anyone who hasn’t passed their screening process to obtain tenant rights. In this case, amending a lease may be the right way to accomplish this change. There’s no real difference to the paperwork needed from the previous examples, except some jurisdictions may have restrictions on charging additional rent for an additional person. Landlords will usually want the new tenant to complete a full application with a credit check and background check before agreeing to add them.

How do I assign my lease to someone else?

When a tenant wants to leave their rental early, assigning the lease to someone else usually helps them avoid or reduce the financial penalties for breaking their lease. The advantages to the landlord include continuous payment of rent, avoiding the hassle and expense of finding a new tenant, and the acquisition of a potentially longer-term tenant. Unlike a sublease, an assignment means the new tenant takes on all rights and obligations of the lease and the old tenant is no longer responsible. A Lease Assignment agreement might include the following terms:

  • A release of the old tenant from their lease in exchange for the new tenant signing a lease.
  • Any financial responsibilities of the old tenant, such as paying for a reduction in rent given to the new tenant.
  • Whether the landlord keeps the old tenant’s security deposit or gets a new deposit from the new tenant.
  • The date of the transfer.

How do I cancel my lease?

A final option is to agree to cancel a lease early. For example, the tenant may want to move and the landlord can easily find a replacement tenant. Both parties would sign an Agreement to Cancel Lease document stating the new end date for the lease, plus any prorated rent or early termination fees.

Ask a lawyer

Changing a lease affects important legal rights for both the landlord and the tenant. Rocket Lawyer lease documents are vetted by lawyers and legal staff, so you can use them with confidence. If you have questions or want to make sure you’re doing it right, ask a lawyer for help.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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