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How to be a Landlord - The Lease

In this posting we talk about the lease agreement.

In our previous posting we talked about screening potential tenants and finding just that right one. Now let's get a lease. You might be tempted to just agree to terms orally and shake hands and while that can be legally binding, oral agreements often lead to ambiguity about the obligations of each party since memories fade over time. A well written, signed lease is best to lay out your and your tenant's obligations. We have a Florida attorney prepare all of our leases to make sure we comply with any specifics of our state and changing law. I'm not suggesting you must use an attorney, however if you use a pre-made lease you got online, make sure that it's up to date and complies with Florida law.

At the mimimum, a lease must include:

  1. Name of landlord
  2. Name of Tenant(s)
  3. Property description
  4. Amount of rent
  5. Start date
  6. Duration
  7. Granting clause: Landlord hereby leases to tenant...

And while Late Fees, Security Deposit, Last Month’s Rent, Bad Check Fee are not provided by law, they should be provided for by lease. Speaking of last month's rent, taking one keeps your security deposit just that, a security deposit to cover damages. In this economy, coming up with last month's rent in advance can be difficult so you might allow the renter to pay it over the first number of months of the lease.

Specify in your lease that the property is to be used for only residential, non business, private housing purposes only. Be very clear as to who is responsible for what on the property. If the tenant is going to be responsible for lawn care or certain repairs, specify that in the lease. Your lease should also allow you to make periodic inspections of the property which might be the same time you do preventive maintenance.

If you are going to allow pets, you would typically add a pet addendum to the lease that specifies the terms and conditions for keeping a pet on your property as well as details about the pet(s).

You want to think of the lease as the source of answers to questions that might arise during the time they rent from you. There is much more that should in a lease then we can discuss here so I do suggest you consult with an attorney to make sure you cover all your bases.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Paul Ray April 10, 2012 at 11:42 AM
I would love to see a similiar posting regarding the renters side of the equation. Such as documenting the property and inside of the house before renting and when moving out, how they can defend themselves from unlawful actions by the landlord, limits on liabilities for normal wear and tear repairs, rights when it comes to defective AC units (that cost hundreds more a month if not up to date and efficieint) etc.
Anita Shwarts April 10, 2012 at 01:25 PM
Thanks for the comment. A well written lease should protect both side of the equation. Protecting the tenant from a unscrupulous landlord and a landlord from a unscrupulous tenant. You should insist on a walk through and document everything damaged or inoperable. We like to take pictures of any damage for example. Responsibility for maintaining good working order of any appliances and air conditioning should be written into a lease. When you first look at a property to rent, take note of the age and apparent condition of any air conditioning units. That can give you an idea of the level of care the landlord places on their property.
Cherlene Willis April 10, 2012 at 07:21 PM
I think it's great to see questions and answers here! This is exactly why we encourage "conversations" on Gulfport Patch. Thanks Paul Ray and thanks Anita for the quick response!
Paul Ray April 11, 2012 at 09:51 AM
I agree with you. However, not being HVAC specialist, a unit could look in fairly good condition and more often than not a rental agent or property owner will put into the lease that it is the responsibility of the tenant to maintain the AC etc. But what is the recourse for a tenant when they find the electric bill shows up at 570.00 for a month and yet the house was 87 degrees F during the day (as was my last rental experience). In my case, I went out and plunked down 1,600.00 for window units and my electric dropped to 260.00 a month. Not everyone can afford that kind of expense nor could they afford the electric bill. What in a case like this can or should be done? I hear of these kinds of stories regularly. Thank goodness it taught me a lesson so that when I bought a house, it came with a new roof and a new ac system.
Paul Ray April 11, 2012 at 09:52 AM
I am posting mostly because I know a lot of people out there may like to know what their rights are as a tenant in one of the more common situations renters can find themselves in. I thank you for your input.
Anita Shwarts April 11, 2012 at 01:16 PM
I understand your concerns and agree that this is all too common. However you mention in your post that as tenant you signed a lease stating tenants responsibility for air conditioning. A good lease will show tenants responsibility for clean filters and landlord responsibility for maintenance. A tenant can always ask to see the landlords service agreement, which we recommend. It is the landlords responsibility to maintain the general condition of the home; roof, a/c etc.... If they don't they can be in breach of the lease and a tenant should therefore have the right to terminate without penalty
Paul Ray April 11, 2012 at 02:02 PM
@Anita, thanks, excellent suggestions. I guess this is the kind of information I was hinting about in my comments. Something more from the tenants perspective regarding maintenance agreements etc. Thanks
Inrchld April 12, 2012 at 02:54 AM
This is such a great topic. Our daughter recently had a very bad experience with her landlord on her security deposit. She had truly done everything you could ask. Full filled her lease and made repairs and improvements to the property. For 3 years he never graced her doorway and suddenly he wanted to increase the rent making it unaffordable for her. Among items his lease said he was responsible for was his washer which had flooded the house the year before. When she'd called to ask how to handle it he told her to get a shop vac and a fan after asking whose washer it belonged to! The following year the place was burgled with the front door kicked in. He never came by to see the damages his lease stated he was again responsible for but repeatedly requested the police report. When she was ready to move he refused her deposit saying the carpet was stained. Well it was when his washer flooded. It was clean, dry and never moldy but it did have a water mark. We even had a little movie of the current in the front room! He finally folded because she pointed out he ultimately failed to send her letters or acknowledge her in a timely manner according to Florida's rental laws. Just before she would have served papers he finally relented. We learned there are important time constraints and dates that must be respected for both parties.
Anita Shwarts April 12, 2012 at 11:40 AM
Thanks for the comment. I'm glad your daughter stood up to the landlord. As a tenant you should never feel bullied by your landlord--you have rights! Florida law is very specific regarding security deposits. The landlord must proof that they are entitled to it. There's an excellent summary of Florida's Landlord/Tenant Law on the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services web site: http://www.800helpfla.com/landlord_text.html
Inrchld April 15, 2012 at 05:53 AM
Thanks for the link and again for the informative article.
DJH April 18, 2012 at 03:07 PM
After renting for years in California, I learned to never let a landlord have the upper hand on a deposit. When you give your notice, do so against whatever deposit you have. It will tick off the landlord, but most renters need their deposit to move into the next place, so 30 or 60 days down the road doesn't cut it. Let's face it, landlords are trying to eliminate their risk, and leases are pretty one sided. If you want to play landlord, then you need to accept that your tenant is the customer, and treat him like that.
Anita Shwarts April 18, 2012 at 05:11 PM
Thank you for your comment. You state that a lease is one sided in favor of the landlord, and whilst this can be true, my point is that a tenant need not agree to a onesided lease and that a well written lease protects both parties. If you use security deposit as last months rent, you may find yourself in breach of your lease and reported to the tenant verification bureau as is the landlords right. This unfortunately may effect your ability to rent in the future. If you pay last months rent in advance, then you will not be required to pay rent for the last 30 days of your tenancy, giving yourself the financial means for a deposit on your next rental. Security deposits need to be held as just that, neither a tenant nor a landlord has the right to use these funds against unpaid rent. I completely agree that a landlord should accept that a tenant is a customer and treat them accordingly, and a well written lease should provide the means to ensure that this is the case.
Paul Ray April 18, 2012 at 06:06 PM
Anita, If the renter has a deposit of $800.00 with their current rental and then pays the last month’s rent of $800.00 one month before they are to move into their new rental, and the new rental requires $800.00 for the first month’s rent and an $800.00 deposit then the tenant needs to come up with an additional $800.00 to move. No landlord will hand you keys until the total $1,600.00 has been paid. We all also know that the current landlord will not be in any rush to part with “your” money kept as a deposit and you cannot use those funds to move. So I see the need for many people not graced with unlimited funds to want to use the security deposit. As to the current landlord to report you to the tenant verification bureau, when the renter has paid all previous rents on time and the rented unit is in good condition and in rental able condition could easily be construed as defamation of character or even slander since it has impact on your future and you reputation. I must admit my reading that particular part of your post made me feel ill at ease and actually points out how tenants feel landlords have it over them. I personally would demand that my security deposit be kept in an escrow account that collects interest and that the landlord send me quarterly statements of those funds.
Cherlene Willis April 18, 2012 at 06:17 PM
Thank you Anita for being so prompt with your questions. We love having you as a blogger on Gulfport Patch! - Cherlene
Anita Shwarts April 18, 2012 at 07:33 PM
Paul, If you take your example, you pay $800 rent and $800 security to move in. If last months rent is required, ask for an agreeable payment plan. (this is landlords choice, however if they don't take last months rent many tenants use their security deposit against this and leave no deposit if the property is damaged.) If last months rent is paid and you give 30 days notice, then your rent has been paid in advance and nothing is due, leaving you $800 for a security deposit for the next property, this means that you need to find no additional funds to move house. If new landlord asks for last months rent, ask for a payment plan so that when your security deposit is refunded this can be used. In reality a good tenant should not need additional funds to rent a home. A lease should state where the security funds are held and type of account. Tenants and landlords are equally proptected and Florida has fair housing rules regarding holding on to and /or claiming against your deposit. The article we linked to earlier details this really well. In reality a landlord will not report a tenant if they always paid their rent on time and they left the property in good order... but if you as a tenant are always going to do this, then there should never be a need to use the security as months rent. The point of this blog is to hopefully show that a 'well written lease' protects a tenant from a bad landlord or a landlord from a bad tenant.... after all both parties have rights....
Pat Dunham September 27, 2012 at 08:39 PM
I totally agree that a good lease is written to protect both the landlord and the tenant. I believe it is true that a landlord needs to stipulate where the security deposit is held and can choose to indicate that it is "being held in a non bearing interest account with co-mingled funds". Do you find that information correct?
Paul Ray September 28, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Sorry, took a while for me to read the follow up post. I think the numbers are a bit wrong. Let's presuppose I live in an apartment that required first months rent of 800.00 and a security deposit of 800.00 and my lease expires. I notify the landlord with my 800.00 rent on let's say Sept 1 and that I would be moving into a new apartment Oct 1. The new apartment is also 800.00 a month with first months rent and a security deposit. I need to give them the 1600.00 before I can take possession of the unit. So I move out of my current place and the rent I would have paid to the current place I have as the 800.00 down (1/2 of the 1,600.00 total) however I need to save an additional 800.00 for the deposit since my current landlord will not release the funds till a walk through is completed which means all my belongings have been moved out, and in almost all cases, the deposit must be returned within 30 days of moving. So, I am not understanding where I have the total of 1,600.00 under your scenario. I have 800.00 and a promise for the additional 800.00 which could be some time till it arrives. That was my point and most people who have rented and moved understand this.
Paul Ray September 28, 2012 at 11:44 AM
Most states require a security deposit and a last months (if required) to be put in an escrow account bearing interest and a quarterly statement sent to the tenant on the contents of that account. I find that more than fair, after all, the funds are property of the tenant and should be awarded interest. Albeit, interest rates of 1% are not much to speak of it is still something the tenant should be afforded.
Anita Shwarts September 28, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Pat, please note that the requirement for security deposits may differ in accordance with the lease written. The most important thing is that the tenant has the right to know where the money is being held and if there is interest being gained then who it is to be paid to. Property managers do not have to hold the funds in escrow, however they do have to hold the funds separately (no co-mingling) and in a non-interest bearing account. Our lease have to clearly state this and even tell the tenant which bank they are held in. There are of course, as mentioned previously very strict procedures in claiming and returning funds in regards to a deposit.

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