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Are electronic signatures valid across state lines?

Electronic signatures are generally valid within a state and across state lines under both state and federal laws. Federal and international laws also apply to electronic signatures abroad, although a handful of countries still have not approved them for use. Be sure to do some research, or ask a lawyer about any specific requirements you need to follow. However, be aware that a college student who is still a minor may not have the legal capacity to enter into a lease agreement and will need a co-signer. 

One concern with any signature is verifying the identity of the person signing to ensure the validity of the signature. RocketSign® makes it easy for property managers, tenants, and co-signers to exchange documents and secure valid signatures for leases and a whole host of landlord and tenant agreements, quickly and easily.

What COVID-19 restrictions should property managers know about that will extend into the fall of 2021?

Most local governments are already easing COVID-19 restrictions. Still, you may have to follow some mandates like indoor masks and social distancing in common areas. 

You will also want to keep an eye on restrictions imposed by local colleges. For example, if they require vaccinations or resume remote learning, you may have tenants who want to get out of their lease.

Finally, if you rent to international students, travel restrictions may prevent them from arriving this year. In most cases, only a quarantine is needed, but outright travel bans are possible if a country experiences a surge in cases.

For more information and additional tips, check out 4 Ways to Prepare Your Short Term Rentals for COVID-19 Compliance.

Can I refuse to rent to unvaccinated individuals?

Refusing to rent to unvaccinated individuals or asking about vaccination status on a Rental Application is a complicated question. Some attorneys believe you have the right to do this. Others believe that mandating the vaccine could open you up to liability if a tenant has an adverse reaction, or discrimination claims if the tenant has a religious or medical reason for a vaccination exemption. Notably, there is some support for requiring vaccinations from a Supreme Court case that upheld mandatory smallpox vaccines imposed by Massachusetts. If this is a policy you are considering, you may want to ask a lawyer before refusing to rent to anyone because of their vaccination status.

Local laws may prevent you from imposing a vaccine requirement. Florida law, for instance, prohibits businesses from asking about vaccination status. In other areas, you may need to check if this would conflict with any existing limitations on screening  potential tenants.

What if a renter never shows up?

In most cases, a Lease Agreement is legally binding when signed even if the renter never moves in. You may already have the first and last month’s rent, and a security deposit, in the bank before the move-in date. Generally, the renter is liable for rent subject to the terms of the rental agreement, the landlord's duty to mitigate damages or avoid losses, or other local limits on the renter's liability.

As a practical matter, you may want to get in touch with the renter as soon as possible to see if they intend to move in. If not, it's best to get it in writing that they are canceling their lease so you can quickly re-rent the property. Keep in mind that even if state or local law makes the tenant liable for the entire lease, collecting even one full month's rent may be difficult without legal action and proving you could not re-rent the space to avoid losses. If you intend to charge the tenant, try to get them to agree to the amount you plan to withhold from their deposit when they give their notice to cancel.

Can you charge a disinfection fee to new tenants?

Landlords can generally charge any move-in or move-out fees as long as they are part of the application process or in the lease. Some jurisdictions impose limits on the types or amounts of fees.

If you charge for a disinfecting service, be careful not to make any promises or guarantees, as a tenant who gets sick may argue that you warranted that the property was free of COVID-19. This could open you up to potential liability. You may want to consider increasing the usual cleaning fees for the service to account for disinfecting services, and not specifically calling it out in the lease or agreement.

Can you demand a higher security deposit for more wear and tear due to remote learning and telecommuting?

State and local laws may set a general limit on security deposits. Often security deposits are limited to one or two months of rent. Market considerations may also limit what you can charge.

Even if you ask for a larger security deposit, you still have the burden of proving that the tenant caused more than reasonable wear and tear to the property. This may require showing something like a carpet excessively worn by an office chair. A security deposit cannot be used for routine maintenance and refurbishment between rentals. Using a detailed Pre-Rental Inspection Checklist can help you support potential claims.

For more help

To learn more about your legal rights and obligations during the rental process, ask a lawyer.

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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