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Residential Lease basics

Residential Lease Agreements are a legally binding contract that solidifies rental agreements. These documents include details such as rent due, deposits, terms, and renter and landlord responsibilities. They establish the rights and responsibilities of each party and give important information such as when rent is due, where to send it, how repairs and maintenance should be handled, etc.

Other names for a Residential Lease Agreement include: Home Lease Agreement, Apartment Lease Agreement, Rental Contract, Lease Contract


What is included in a Residential Lease Agreement?


Our document template will guide you through the items to include in your Residential Lease Agreement. Since it is customizable, you can make it as thorough or as brief as you want. You will want to include the basics such as how much rent is, when rent is due, how long the lease lasts and property details.

Provisions typically included in a lease are:

Description of the property. At the minimum, you'll want to include the address and unit number. You may also want to describe areas that are excluded such as storage units or parking spaces.

Terms. The length of the lease including start date and what happens when the lease ends. You may choose to have the lease automatically renew or require that a new lease agreement is signed.

Deposits. The amount of the initial deposit and pet deposit (if required). You may also choose to include information about what portion of the deposit is nonrefundable.

Occupants and guests. This section will define how many people will live there, who is on the lease and how long guests can stay.

Utilities and services. Describes who is responsible for paying the utilities such as electricity and gas and services such as internet and cable.

Termination. You'll want to explain what actions may terminate the lease such as non-payment and what will happen if they violate the agreement.

Contact information. Your renters will need the contact information for the property manager, the person to contact if they lock themselves out, maintenance people for approved repairs and others depending on your arrangement.

Legal language. The portions that provide legal protections and agreements such as binding effect, waivers, estoppel certificate obligations, litigation fees, dispute resolution and more depending on your state laws.

To make sure you don't accidently include discriminatory language or violate local landlord-tenant laws, you may benefit from asking a lawyer to review your final document.


What cannot be included in a Residential Lease Agreement?


Local laws vary, but in most areas, there are specific restrictions on what you can include in a Lease Agreement. Many state and local laws do not allow you to ask about or make exclusions based on a renter's race, national origin, sex, or gender. You might not be able to limit family size unless your rental properties are exclusively for seniors. Most often you cannot ask for the age of the applicant unless you need to verify that they are old enough to legally rent on their own. Some states may require you to include information about the financial institution that is holding their deposits. Ask a lawyer if you have very specific questions about what you can and cannot include in your Lease Agreement.


How do I fill out a Lease Agreement?


Creating a customized Residential Lease Agreement with Rocket Lawyer is easy. You can create your own Residential Lease Agreement if:

  • You are a landlord or property manager wanting to rent a property.
  • You are a homeowner wanting to rent part of your home.
  • You want to rent a property and the owner doesn't have a Lease Agreement document.

Residential Lease Agreements are customizable for any state and any type of residential rental unit, including houses, parts of homes, apartments, condos, townhouses, or manufactured homes.


How long can a Residential Lease be?


Limits on the length of a residential lease will depend on your state. Some states have no upper limits on lease lengths, whereas others do. At common law, a 99-year lease was recognized as the longest possible term, and some places still follow that example. However, in practice, residential leases are unlikely to last that long. Both landlords and tenants have good reasons to maintain flexibility when it comes to a residential lease. The longer a lease continues, the more likely it is that one of the parties will need to break it.


Is a contract to lease binding?


When you sign a Residential Lease Agreement, you are signing a legally binding contract. Both the landlord and the tenant are bound to the terms of the agreement, which is supposed to outline the responsibilities and rights of each party.

That being said, if the tenant absolutely must breach the agreement for some reason, the lease will likely contain information regarding early termination. In many cases, there will be some sort of financial penalty for ending the lease early. Additionally, the tenant will likely still be on the hook for covering the cost of the rent unless and until the landlord can find a suitable replacement tenant.

The landlord may owe a "duty of mitigation," which means the landlord has to limit his or her losses by trying to find a new tenant. This is usually done by listing the property and showing it to interested parties. However, tenants should keep in mind that a lease means a financial obligation for the full term of the agreement, and should sign it with that in mind.


How do I fill out a 3-day notice?


A 3-day notice may be issued by a landlord to a tenant who is late paying rent or has violated some other part of the Residential Lease Agreement. A 3-day notice may contain the following information:

  • The full name of the tenant(s).
  • The landlord's name, address, and telephone number.
  • The address of the rental property.
  • The reason the 3-day notice is being served. For example, behaviors that breached the lease or a failure to pay rent, including dates and a detailed description.
  • If the reason for the 3-day notice is for a failure to pay rent, it may include a statement that rent was not paid timely, and it may include the exact amount of rent due as well as when the payment is due.
  • A clear statement that if the issue is not resolved or rent is not paid, the tenant will have to move out once the three days have elapsed.

Following the proper procedures for creating and serving 3-day notices is very important, and the details may vary between different states and local governments. Ask a lawyer if you have questions about the specific requirements in your location.


What expenses can the landlord deduct from the deposit?


Generally, you cannot use deposit funds for what might be considered standard "wear and tear" damage, such as worn carpet, faded paint, or sun faded window coverings. If you do make repairs that you want to claim as valid deposit deductions make sure to keep all receipts in case you need to settle in court. You may also want to document damages with pictures (images from when the tenants moved in and after they move out if possible).

You can usually deduct for extensive damage or hygiene issues, such as:

Filth and neglect. Excessively dirty bathrooms and kitchens, mold growth from neglect, moldy refrigerators or rotten food, and flea infestations.

Damage. Damage might include broken doors or windows, large holes in the walls, or broken tiles.

Broken inclusions. Broken appliances from misuse, oily parking spots, damaged storage units, or damage to included furniture.


Do I need a rental agreement for friends and family?


It is best to have a Residential Lease Agreement even with those you know well. The first reason is that it helps communicate what your agreements are in case conversations are forgotten or remembered incorrectly. And secondly, sometimes relationships can go sour or life changes may prevent your renters from keeping up their side of the agreement. It is more difficult in some areas to evict a tenant without a Lease Agreement. While verbal agreements are most often legally binding, it is easier to prove a rental arrangement exists to the court with a signed lease.

If you need other rental documents or additional information, we also provide numerous property management documents and additional information about landlord-tenant laws.


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Sample Residential Lease

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