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When and how should I review a lease?

A good time for a landlord to review a lease is at least 60 to 90 days before it expires. Give yourself enough time, even more than a few months, to review the terms and to propose changes. If a lease does not end for several more months, you may create a schedule with reminders and deadlines.

Starting early means you will have the time to get something signed, or notify the tenant if they will need to move out, before the current lease expires or comes up for renewal. If you are short on time, or simply want to make the process easier, electronic signatures can be an effective, safe, and legal tool.

When reviewing a lease, consider the following:

  • Length of the lease and renewal date.
  • Cost of rent.
  • Services included with the property.
  • Due date for rent.
  • Security deposit amount.
  • Security deposit return details.
  • Terms for ending the lease early.
  • Utility responsibilities.
  • Assignment or subletting rights.

You might also consider occupancy rules, such as how many people can live in the house, whether they have to be related or not, and so on. You may want to review the lease for restrictions and decide if you want to make changes, for example, banning smoking indoors or having pets. You can think about move-in checklists and move-out responsibilities, such as what is considered wear-and-tear or damage and what the tenant must clean.

Also, you may need to review the line between your own responsibilities, such as lawn care, repairs, maintenance, and paying for  specific utilities, and those belonging to the tenant, such as controlling the noise level, keeping the property clean, and removing garbage and recycling.

Can I update a Lease Agreement with new terms?

Yes, you can update a Lease Agreement with new terms, but this may require that you let the tenant know ahead of time, and it could also require a signed Lease Amendment. For existing tenants, you can typically update a lease with new terms when it expires, when you renew it, or after providing notice.

You may suggest changes to a Lease Agreement mid-way through a lease term in a Lease Amendment, or you can wait until the current lease expires. Some leases may include terms that let the landlord change some things in the lease, for example by creating reasonable rules for common areas, such as prohibiting the blocking of exits in all common areas to ensure all tenants can exit the building safely in an emergency.

Tenants may also suggest new Lease Agreement terms. They may want to add a roommate or pet, pass their lease on to a new tenant, or switch to a different utility company. Generally, both tenant and landlord must agree to the new terms. If they do not agree, then the Lease Agreement usually cannot be changed.

Updating a lease is usually simple. You might choose to sign a whole new lease or sign a Lease Amendment. The second option is more common because it does not require you to throw out the original lease. Instead, it is more like adding a new section to the lease.

If you change some terms in the amendment, such as allowing pets when the original lease had a no-pets policy, make those changes clear in the new document. It is best for any updated or changed terms to the lease to be in writing and signed by both landlord and tenants.

It is also important to know the laws in your state about when tenants must give notice that they plan to move out. Depending on the state, it can range from 30 days to 90 days.

Can I renew an expired lease?

When a lease term ends, the Lease Agreement expires and a tenant must typically move out after being notified by their landlord to vacate. In most states, if the landlord accepts rent from a tenant after the original lease expires, the lease becomes a month-to-month lease. The same terms of the old lease still apply, but the length and notice requirements can change. For example, the tenant might have to let the landlord know they are moving out only 30 days ahead of time instead of 90 days. In a few states, if a landlord accepts rent after a lease expires, it automatically renews under the same terms and length of time as the original lease.

After a lease expires, or transitions to a month-to-month, it may still be renewed or modified. A new lease or an amendment might be required, depending on the terms of the expired lease and whether both the landlord and tenant agree. If the original lease says it can be renewed without notice after it expires, then the original lease can often continue month-to-month.

In some areas, where legal protections for renters are very strong, there may be strict limits to what can be changed. In these locations, it is a good idea to seek legal advice before making changes.

Yes, it is legal to electronically sign a Lease Agreement or Lease Renewal Agreement, even if the original was not electronically signed. 

Electronic signatures have become much more common because they are convenient and secure and they save time and money. Under the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act passed by Congress in 2000, electronic signatures are almost always legally binding and just as good as hand-written signatures.

What can I do if my tenant does not want to sign a Lease Renewal Agreement or Lease Amendment?

Eviction may be an option if a tenant refuses to sign a Lease Renewal Agreement or a Lease Amendment, but it depends on the situation. Landlords may choose to renew a lease, or not, when it expires. Generally, tenants who refuse to sign a Lease Renewal Agreement will be given notice to move out. The length of notice required varies between states, such as 30 days or 90 days. It may depend on the length of the lease.

A landlord usually may not evict a tenant for refusing to sign a Lease Amendment or addendum, but can send them a Notice of Non-Renewal, which is a statement saying the lease will not be renewed. If they do not vacate after receiving the notice, then an eviction may be possible. If an eviction is not possible, perhaps because of local rent control laws, a landlord may still be able to raise the rent annually.

Landlords can also choose to work out a plan with their tenants. But once a written Lease Agreement starts, both parties usually have to agree to change the terms. Those changes typically must be in writing, and signatures are almost always required.

If you need help reviewing, renewing, or making changes to your leases, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

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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