We Know: How to Write a Rental Agreement

What is a rental agreement?

A rental agreement is a document that gives a tenant the right to occupy a specified place for a specific amount of time. A long-term agreement (a year or more) must be in writing, but a short-term lease can be oral or written.

What are the differences between oral and written agreements?

Oral leases are not written down and will specify how much is to be paid, how long the tenant plans to stay, and how much notice must be given to vacate. A written lease is more definite, committing a tenant to a specified length of time, and includes other conditions on the lease agreement. A written agreement is desirable because disputes can be quickly settled by referring to the lease.

What should a rental agreement include?

The written rental agreement or lease should contain key terms, such as the following :

  • The names of the property owner and the tenant.
  • The address of the rental unit.
  • The amount of the rent.
  • When the rent is due, to whom it is to be paid, and where it is to be paid.
  • The amount and purpose of the security deposit
  • The amount of any late charge or returned check fee
  • Whether pets are allowed.
  • The number of people allowed to live in the rental unit.
  • Whether attorney's fees can be collected from the losing party in the event of a lawsuit between you and the landlord.
  • Who is responsible for paying utilities (gas, electric, water, and trash collection).
  • If the rental is a house or a duplex with a yard, who is responsible for taking care of the yard.
  • Any promises by the landlord to make repairs, including the date by which the repairs will be completed.
  • Other items, such as whether you can sublet the rental unit and the conditions under which the landlord can inspect the rental unit.

What should a lease never include?

The following lease provisions are Illegal:

  • Exculpatory Clause: protecting the property owner from liability for his or her own negligence. Excessive penalty for late rent: A penalty for late rent may not be larger than the property owner's reasonable expected damages.
  • Automatic Forfeiture of Deposit as the property owner may only keep the deposit to pay for damages to the unit
  • Preadmission of Guilt on the part of the tenant in the event of a dispute. Guilt cannot be assumed.
  • A property owner may not prohibit waterbeds, unless the local building code bans them, though the tenant must carry insurance for damage protection.
  • A requirement that the tenant pay all of property owner's attorney fees in the cases of a dispute. Only the court can grant the fees be paid.


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