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What Does a Lease Need to Contain to be a Legal Document?

— September 22, 2020

As binding legal documents, leases protect landlords and tenants alike. If you decide to use a standardized lease form, be sure that it conforms with local regulations so that it provides protection for all parties, and so that it is enforceable.

Whether you’re a landlord or renter, it’s important to understand what language a lease needs to contain to be a legal document. After all, it’s important for a lease to serve as a contract between landlord and tenant, outlining expectations, rights, and responsibilities for both parties.

It’s worth noting that this is a basic guide as laws governing leases vary from one place to the next. While we are covering the basics here, you’ll want to double check with your local government. Some requirements mentioned here might not be necessary in your area, and you may need to include items that we haven’t covered.

All leases need to be in writing

A verbal lease isn’t a binding agreement. Even though it would be nice to live in a society where we could trust one another based simply on word, the fact is, placing a lease in writing is the first step toward making it legally binding.

Leases must contain start and end dates

Be specific when outlining occupancy dates. Include a start date and an ending date. You might also want to include a renewal clause that discusses whether the lease will be renewed at any point and how renewal will take place. Terms for ending the lease early should be outlined as well.

Leases must include legal names

For a lease to be a legal document, it must include the name of the owner, whether that is an individual or a business. It must also include the legal name of the renter. If there are multiple renters who will be responsible for payments, then the lease should include the legal names of all parties.

Occupancy details should be included

Besides naming responsible parties, the lease should include names and ages of children if applicable. The lease should also include specific details about whether pets are allowed and if so, state clearly the number and type of pets allowed.

Any restrictions should be clearly stated on the lease

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State specific restrictions if applicable. For example, if no smoking is allowed or if smoking is allowed only outdoors, the lease should include a clear statement concerning smoking restrictions.

Leases should include information about landlord right of entry

The lease should clearly state conditions under which the landlord will be allowed to enter the property. For example, they might be required to provide 24 hours notice before visiting the property, and there might be an additional clause that covers emergency access. Keep in mind that tenants everywhere have the right to peaceful enjoyment of a property that they are renting or leasing.

Leases must include financial details

To be considered a legally binding document, a lease must specify the amount of rent to be paid as well as payment due dates and types of payments accepted or specific methods for making payments i.e. whether payments will be mailed, sent electronically, etc.

The lease must also include information concerning deposits and conditions required for the return of deposits. Include information about additional fees such as fees on tenancy cleaning and fees incurred due to damages, i.e. pet damages.

Clearly state how any deposit is to be paid and when it is to be paid. Include information that states how security deposits are to be used, and whether they are refundable. State how and when any refund will be made if applicable.

Even though it’s an unpleasant topic, the subject of eviction needs to be included in the lease. Terms for eviction should be clearly outlined so that there is no confusion.

The lease should discuss the condition of the property

Before the lease is signed, and before move in occurs, the landlord and tenant should walk through the property. The lease should clearly state the condition of the property at move in time, and any existing damage or problems should be noted. Photos are extremely helpful and can be attached to a lease. All parties should agree on the condition of the property at the time the lease is signed. In addition, all parties should be in agreement concerning the expected condition of the property at the time the tenants vacate it.

Information about changes to the property should be included in the lease

If the landlord will allow the tenants to make changes to the property such as changing paint color or making other permanent alterations, such changes need to be outlined in the lease. The same holds true if no changes are to be allowed.

Information concerning repairs and upkeep should be included

To be legally binding, the lease should include information about who is responsible for making repairs and conducting essential maintenance tasks. If, for example, the tenant is responsible for mowing the lawn, the lease should be specific about that responsibility.

When tenants are to handle repairs and/or maintenance, the lease should include information about remuneration for costs incurred, or it should be specific about deducting those costs from the price of rent. If, on the other hand the landlord is responsible for handling all repairs and maintenance, the lease should include information about how to proceed with a repair or maintenance request.

Final thoughts

As binding legal documents, leases protect landlords and tenants alike. If you decide to use a standardized lease form, be sure that it conforms with local regulations so that it provides protection for all parties, and so that it is enforceable.

You might find it helpful to receive expert advice when drawing up a lease. In the UK for example, tenancy agreements are often handled by letting agents, though you’ll also find tenancy agreement templates which can be purchased by private landlords and edited as needed. These professionals are well-versed in national and local lease requirements for legality, making life simpler for landlords and tenants alike. In the US however, landlords or property managers typically write the lease agreement.

Don’t be afraid to make additions to an existing lease template if you’d like to customize it to suit your needs or make accommodations for your renters. Your local Housing Authority can help you determine whether changes and additions to leases are legal; be certain to have your questions answered before presenting the lease to tenants for signing. 

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