Leases & Rental Agreements
Leases & Rental Agreements
A must-have for landlords
Janet Portman, Attorney; Marcia Stewart; and Ralph Warner, Attorney
August 2015, 11th Edition
Create a solid, binding lease that complies with your state laws
If you rent out residential real estate, you need documents that are legally valid where you live—and every state’s rules are different when it comes to landlord-tenant law. Typical stationery store leases simply won’t do the job. This book contains the key legal forms you need in your state, including:
- fixed-term lease
- month-to-month rental agreement
- rental application
- tenant reference and credit check forms
- move-in and move-out letters
- property inspection checklist
The 11th edition is completely revised to reflect the latest state landlord-tenant laws. You’ll find the key state-specific rules you must include in your residential leases and rental agreements, including clauses covering security deposits, entry to rental property, late rent fees, termination notice requirements, and disclosures.
"Nolo is a pioneer in both consumer and business self-help books and software.” -Los Angeles Times
"On my scale of one to 10, this excellent book rates a solid 10."
-Robert Bruss, real estate attorney and nationally syndicated columnist
"A comprehensive look at state and federal laws governing landlord-tenant relations. Recommended..."
- Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement
- Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement (Spanish version)
- Fixed-Term Residential Lease
- Fixed-Term Residential Lease (Spanish version)
- Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards
- Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards (Spanish version)
- Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home Pamphlet
- Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home Pamphlet (Spanish version)
- Rental Application
- Consent to Contact References and Perform Credit Check
- Tenant References
- Notice of Denial Based on Credit Report or Other Information
- Notice of Conditional Acceptance Based on Credit Report or Other Information
- Landlord-Tenant Checklist
- Move-In Letter
- Tenant’s Notice of Intent to Move Out
- Move-Out Letter
Table of Contents
Your Lease and Rental Documents Companion
1. Preparing a Lease or Rental Agreement
- Which Is Better, a Lease or a Rental Agreement?
- Instructions for Completing the Lease or Rental Agreement Form
- Instructions for Signing the Lease or Rental Agreement
- Lease-Option Contracts (Rent-to-Buy)
2. Choosing Tenants: Your Most Important Decision
- How to Advertise Rental Property
- Renting Property That’s Still Occupied
- Accepting Rental Applications
- Checking References, Credit History, and More
- Avoiding Illegal Discrimination
- Choosing—and Rejecting—an Applicant
- Choosing a Tenant-Manager
- Property Management Companies
3. Getting the Tenant Moved In
- Inspect and Photograph the Unit
- Send New Tenants a Move-In Letter
- Cash Rent and Security Deposit Checks
- Organize Your Tenant Records
- Organize Income and Expenses for Schedule E
4. Changing or Ending a Tenancy
- How to Modify Signed Rental Agreements and Leases
- Ending a Month-to-Month Tenancy
- How Fixed-Term Leases End
- Returning Security Deposits When a Tenancy Ends
A. State Landlord-Tenant Law Charts
B. How to Use the Interactive Forms on the Nolo Website
- Editing RTFs
- List of Forms Available on the Nolo Website
Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement
Month-to-Month Residential Rental Agreement (Spanish version)
Fixed-Term Residential Lease
Fixed-Term Residential Lease (Spanish version)
Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards
Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead-Based Paint Hazards
Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home Pamphlet
Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home Pamphlet (Spanish version)
Consent to Contact References and Perform Credit Check
Notice of Denial Based on Credit Report or Other Information
Notice of Conditional Acceptance Based on Credit Report or Other Information
Tenant’s Notice of Intent to Move Out
Your Lease and Rental Documents Companion
The rental agreement or lease that you and your tenant sign forms the contractual basis of your relationship. Taken together with the laws of your state—and, in a few areas, local and federal laws—it sets out almost all the legal and practical rules you and your tenant must follow—such as how many people can occupy your property and for how long, the amount of the rent and deposit, and you (and your tenant’s) repair and maintenance responsibilities.
We’ll take you step by step through preparing a lease or rental agreement, plus key forms that supplement them, including a rental application designed to help you choose the best tenants (and weed out the bad ones) and a landlord-tenant checklist to document the condition of the rental unit at the beginning and end of the tenancy (and avoid disputes over security deposits).
Fortunately, you don’t need a lawyer to draft these important rental documents—just this book. Here’s how we can help you.
State-specific legal information. We’ll show you how to easily create an effective and legal rental agreement or lease that you can tailor to fit your situation using the 50-state law charts in Appendix A. Want to know about security deposit rules in your state? The “State Security Deposit Rules” chart has what you need, including the deposit limit, whether you need to keep the deposit in a separate account or pay interest on it, when you must return the deposit, and whether you’re exempt from the rules based on the size of your business.
Where to find forms in this book. You’ll find copies of the lease and rental agreement, rental application, and other forms in this book available for download on the Nolo website on a special companion page for this book (described below).
Both the print copy and eBook versions include blank versions of the forms (found in Appendix C), which you can either tear out or print, as well as filled-in samples in the text.
Who shouldn’t use our lease or rental agreement? Don’t use the forms in this book if you’re renting out property that is subsidized by the government; mobile homes; hotels; or commercial property. Landlords who accept Section 8 vouchers will need to use the HUD addendum, which will add to the terms and conditions of the lease you draft using this product (the HUD terms will prevail in case of any inconsistencies). If you are renting out your condominium or townhouse, use this book in conjunction with your homeowners’ association CC&Rs (covenants, conditions, and restrictions).
Other Helpful Nolo Titles and Online Information and Resources for Landlords
A lease or rental agreement is only one part of a landlord-tenant legal relationship. Nolo publishes several other books for landlords (most with legal forms and state-by-state information) that complement this book, including:
Every Landlord’s Legal Guide, by Marcia Stewart, Ralph Warner, and Janet Portman. A comprehensive explanation of landlord-tenant laws and the practical steps rental property owners can take to comply with them (while at the same time running an efficient and profitable business). It covers most key laws affecting landlords in all 50 states, including your repair and maintenance responsibilities and your liability for crime and environmental health hazards such as lead, mold, and bedbugs; rules and procedures for collecting and returning security deposits; antidiscrimination laws; privacy rules; employment laws affecting managers; tenants rights to break a lease and leave early; how to resolve problems with tenants or begin the eviction process; emerging issues such as foreclosures; and more.
First-Time Landlord: Your Guide to Renting Out a Single-Family Home, by Janet Portman, Ilona Bray, and Marcia Stewart. A starter guide for people who are renting out a house for the first time (or are considering doing so) and want a basic overview of the legal, practical, and financial issues involved, including estimating costs and profits, co-owning rental property with family, and managing rental income to maximize tax deductions.
Every Landlord’s Guide to Finding Great Tenants, by Janet Portman. A detailed guide to attracting, screening, and choosing the best tenants possible.
Every Landlord’s Tax Deduction Guide, by Stephen Fishman. A comprehensive explanation of deductions and other tax write-offs available to landlords, such as depreciation and insurance. Includes instructions for filling out Schedule E.
For California landlords: The California Landlord’s Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities, by David Brown, Ralph Warner, and Janet Portman, and The California Landlord’s Law Book: Evictions, by David Brown. These books contain all the information California landlords need to run their business and handle an eviction in court by themselves.
You can order these landlord titles from Nolo’s website (www.nolo.com) or by phone (800-728-3555). You can also find Nolo books at bookstores and libraries.
The Nolo website has many state-specific landlord forms for sale, plus lots of free information of interest to landlords, including legal updates, and 50-state charts of state laws, such as tenants’ rights to withhold rent, and small claims court rules. (Check out the “Landlords and Rental Property” section at www.nolo.com.) The Legal Research section on the Nolo website will also help you find federal and state laws that affect your property (look for the Legal Research link at the bottom of www.nolo.com).
You can also find an experienced landlord’s attorney at Nolo’s Lawyer Directory (see www.nolo.com/lawyers).
11 Tips for Being a Successful Landlord
1. Don’t rent to anyone before checking their credit history, references, and background. Haphazard screening too often results in problems—a tenant who pays the rent late or not at all, trashes your place, moves in undesirable friends, or worse.
2. Avoid illegal discrimination. Comply with all federal and state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race or color, national origin, gender, age, familial status, disability, and other protected categories.
3. Get all the important terms of the tenancy in writing. Beginning with the rental application and lease or rental agreement, be sure to document important aspects of your relationship with your tenants—including when and how you handle tenant complaints and repair problems, the amount of notice you must give to enter a tenant’s apartment, and the like.
4. Establish a clear, fair system of setting, collecting, holding, and returning security deposits. Inspect and document the condition of the rental unit before the tenant moves in to avoid disputes over security deposits when the tenant moves out.
5. Stay on top of repair and maintenance needs and make repairs when requested. If the property is not kept in good repair, you’ll alienate good tenants. And they may have the right to withhold rent, sue for any injuries caused by defective conditions, or move out without notice.
6. Don’t let your tenants and property be easy marks for a criminal. You could well be liable for the tenant’s losses. Landlords are sued more than any other group of business owners in the country.
7. Respect your tenants’ privacy. Notify tenants whenever you plan to enter their rental unit, and provide at least 24 hours’ notice or the minimum amount required by state law.
8. Disclose environmental hazards such as lead. Landlords are increasingly being held liable for tenant health problems resulting from exposure to environmental poisons in the rental premises.
9. Choose and supervise your manager carefully. If a manager commits a crime or is incompetent, you may be held financially responsible. Do a thorough background check and clearly spell out the manager’s duties to help prevent problems down the road.
10. Purchase enough liability and other property insurance. A well-designed insurance program can protect your rental property from losses caused by everything from fire and storms to burglary, vandalism, and personal injury and discrimination lawsuits.
11. Try to resolve disputes with tenants without lawyers and lawsuits. If you have a conflict with a tenant over rent, repairs, your access to the rental unit, noise, or some other issue that doesn’t immediately warrant an eviction, meet with the tenant to see if the problem can be resolved informally. If that doesn’t work, consider mediation by a neutral third party, often available at little or no cost from a publicly funded program. If your dispute involves money and all attempts to reach agreement fail, try small claims court, where you can represent yourself. Use it to collect unpaid rent or to seek money for property damage after a tenant moves out and the deposit is exhausted.
Get a Little Help From Your Friends
Many landlords have discovered the value of belonging to a local or state association of rental property owners. These organizations range from small, volunteer-run groups to substantial city, county, or statewide organizations. Many offer a wide variety of services to members, including:
legal information and updates through newsletters and seminars
tenant-screening and credit check services
training and practical advice on compliance with legal responsibilities
a place to meet other rental property owners and exchange information and ideas, and
referrals to professionals, including attorneys, accountants, maintenance firms, and property management companies.
If you can’t find an association of rental property owners in your phone book or online, ask other landlords for references. You can also contact the National Apartment Association (www.naahq.org), a national organization whose members include many individual state associations.
We hope you enjoyed this material. The rest of this book is available for purchase.
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DOWNLOAD FORMS - All forms in this book are accessible online. After purchase, you can find a link to the URL in Appendix B.
KEEP UP TO DATE - When there are important changes to the information in this book, we will post updates
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