The relationship between a landlord and a tenant is governed by a written lease. In the absence of a lease, local laws and regulations define the rights and responsibilities of both parties.
In general, a lease, as well as landlord and tenant laws, contain provisions that deal with the duration, description of the leased space, payment of rent, security deposit, termination, landlord’s rights and responsibilities, and tenant’s rights and responsibilities.
Leases can last anywhere from a few months to several years. For the term stated in the lease, the tenant remains responsible for payment of rent and in some cases utilities. If the tenant should terminate the lease before the term ends, he will remain liable for the rent for the remainder of the term, even when he vacates the premises. While a landlord has a duty to mitigate damages by trying to release the space, the tenant will remain responsible for rent until another tenant is found who will pay an equal amount of rent.
In the absence of a written lease, the tenant’s right to occupancy is on a month-to-month basis. The timely payment of rent each month extends the tenant’s right to occupancy for another month.
Month-to-month tenancies work well for short term rentals and when both parties do not want to commit to a long-term lease.
Description of Leased Space
The lease will contain a description of the space. This description may include the right to use any common areas, outdoor space, and parking.
The lease shall clearly state the day of the month when rent is due (the 1st or the 15th, for example) and the way rent shall be paid. This paragraph will state the amount of interest that accrues upon late payment. In addition to rent, the tenant may be responsible for water, utilities, garbage and/or snow removal, and lawn maintenance.
At lease signing, the landlord will collect a security deposit from the tenant. This deposit is either one- or two-months’ rent. This money remains the property of the tenant until the lease terminates unless it is forfeited due to a breach of the tenant’s responsibilities. The landlord holds the deposit in a separate interest-bearing bank account in trust for the tenant. At the end of the lease term, the landlord returns the deposit plus interest to the tenant.
If the tenant breaks one of the terms of the lease, fails to pay rent, and/or damages the premises, the landlord can keep the security deposit. If such an event occurs, the landlord shall notify the tenant in writing. The tenant shall have an opportunity to cure the nonpayment of rent or fix damages. If the tenant fails to cure the breach, the landlord may use the security deposit to cover the costs. The landlord shall provide the tenant with a detailed written description of how the security deposit is being applied and the amount used.
Termination or Cancellation
Generally, a lease terminates on the date the term ends. In the case of a month-to-month tenancy, it ends when the tenant stops paying rent.
Certain unforeseen events can terminate the tenancy such as the complete destruction of the leased space due to natural disaster or government taking.
If either party seeks to end the lease early, the other party must be given advance written notice. The tenant seeking to terminate will remain liable for rent for the duration of the lease unless another tenant is found. If the landlord terminates the lease, he may be liable for damages.
Before signing or prior to occupancy, the landlord has a duty to make certain disclosures to the tenant such as the presence of mold and lead paint. At the beginning of the lease term, the tenant and landlord walk through the space and check to see that everything is in good order. The landlord shall repair any items that are discovered during the walk through prior to the move in date.
For the duration of the lease or month-to-month tenancy, the landlord shall make sure that the premises are free from any nuisance and in good condition.
The landlord shall see that the apartment has working heat, air conditioning (if that is provided for in the lease), running water, operating plumbing, and that space is safe for occupancy. If something becomes inoperable or malfunction, the tenant notifies the landlord. The landlord shall repair it within a timely fashion.
It is the landlord’s duty to insure the structure of the building but not the inside of the leased space itself.
The landlord has a right to enter the space to inspect and provide routine maintenance. The landlord shall provide notice to the tenant when he will enter the space. The landlord may also enter in the event of an emergency, like a fire or flood, without notice.
The landlord has the right to receive timely payment of rent and to collect interest if it is late. Furthermore, he has the right to apply the security deposit to any unpaid rent or damage that the tenant cause to the premises. If the tenant vacates the space before the lease ends, the landlord has a duty to mitigate damages by listing the space for rent.
The landlord has the right to terminate the lease upon notice if one of its terms are breached. The landlord must provide advance notice (usually one month) to the tenant and grant the tenant a period of time to cure before commencing eviction proceedings.
The tenant has a responsibility to keep the space in good condition. In general, a tenant cannot damage walls, floors, and must keep the space in a tidy and working manner (i.e., not leave debris or garbage and possibly fix appliances depending on the terms of the lease).
The tenant must request written permission from the landlord to repaint or alter the apartment in any manner.
Furthermore, the tenant must ensure the inside of the space by holding a renter’s insurance policy.
The tenant must adhere to all local ordinances as well as any rules that apply to the space or apartment building.
The tenant shall have the right to a space that is free from any nuisances, safe, quiet, and in good working order. The tenant shall have use of the common spaces, parking, and other facilities outlined in the lease. If the space is damaged through no fault of his own, the tenant shall have right to the abatement of rent for the duration of time that the space is uninhabitable. Depending on the terms of the lease, the tenant may have the right to the cost of temporary housing. If the landlord fails to repair the damages, tenant has the right to terminate the lease, stop payment of rent, and get his security deposit plus interest back.
The tenant has the right to terminate the lease per the terms stated in the cancellation clause of the lease. Usually, this requires 30 days written notice. The tenant shall remain responsible for the rent for the duration of the lease. In the case of a month-to-month tenancy, the tenant ends the lease when he stops rent payments and is no longer responsible for rent.
A lease is a written agreement outlining the terms whereby a landlord, owner of property, grants the use of space to a tenant for a duration of time. Both parties have mutual obligations as outlined in the rights and responsibilities section of the lease. In the absence of a written lease, local law and regulations define the parties’ rights and responsibilities. If the tenant fails to uphold one of these obligations, the lease or the right to occupancy may terminate. If a landlord prevents a tenant from occupying the space, he may be liable for monetary damages. Prior to entering into any lease agreement or renting a space, it is wise to review the lease and local landlord and tenant law to fully understand your rights and obligations to prevent future disputes. If you should not fully understand any of the provisions in a lease or the rules that apply, it is wise to consult with a landlord and tenant attorney who is familiar with the local laws and regulations.