Landlord-tenant laws are governed by states, and as such, real estate leases will vary. However, in general, a lease spells out the obligations of both the landlord and the tenant. The lease helps both parties avoid misunderstanding that can lead to lawsuits. Regardless of the state where the rental property is located, rental leases must contain several elements to be considered valid.
Most—but not all—states require the lease to be in writing to be considered valid. Among the states that require written leases, valid ones must include a description of the property. The property's physical address is considered a valid description.
Leases must include starting and ending dates. Additionally, a lease must include the amount of rent that is due. It must show when rent is due, and how it should be paid.
So, a lease must spell out the exact date the tenant must deliver the rent, any grace periods offered by the landlord, and where the tenant must deliver the payment. For example, by check to the landlord's office or electronically to their bank account. Valid leases must also follow federal Fair Housing Laws.
Conditions That Invalidate a Lease
In addition to the basic conditions, leases that require tenants to waive their rights to their security deposit or to sue the landlord are considered invalid and unenforceable. Leases also must not contain language that absolves the landlord from their obligation to keep the property safe and habitable.
Common Lease Provisions
Leases should be as detailed as possible. Common lease provisions include but are not limited to, security deposit amounts, utility obligations, and pet deposits -- when pets are allowed.
Leases may also specify parking rules, which parties are responsible for general interior and exterior maintenance of a rental unit, and the landlord's obligations to keep the property habitable.
It is not uncommon for leases to include provisions regarding renter's insurance, the number of guests that can stay with the tenant, and whether the tenant can sublease the premises.
Associated Legal Terms
Since leases are legal documents they will frequently include several legal terms. Some of the most common include:
- Capacity to contract: The parties to the real estate lease contract must have the legal capacity to enter into the agreement. Age, mental competency, and other issues are considered. A minor, which is a person considered 18 years of age or younger, could not enter into a lease. Also, if a person with documented mental competency issues enters into a lease, it would be considered invalid.
- Legal objectives: The purposes of the lease must be legal. If the property to be leased is used for illegal purposes, the lease would be invalid.
- Offer and acceptance: All terms of the contract must be agreed upon by both parties. The owner or landlord would offer these terms to the tenant and the tenant would accept them, signified by their signatures to the lease.
- Consideration: Normally, consideration for a valid lease contract is in the form of rental payment(s). However, it could be in some other form, such as a trade of labor or property improvements for tenancy. Rent is normally fixed for the life of the lease and cannot be changed unless agreed to in writing by both parties.
Commercial leases differ from residential leases. A residential lease may be for an apartment, condo, townhouse, duplex, or single-family dwelling. A commercial lease can include warehouses, strip malls, and other such structures. Federal and state laws provide more protection to residential tenants. Also, the rent structure and timeframe of the lease will vary from a commercial lease.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an attorney.