What to look for in a good rental agreement.
Preparing to move is a massive undertaking. Not only do you have to purge and pack, you also have to coordinate moving trucks and maybe even wrangle friends to help. You may really like your new roommate, but are you sure you've talked through every important detail? Enter: the rental agreement.
A rental agreement is a tool designed to get everyone on the same page. It's like an operating system for your housing situation, and can simplify any possible legal hurdles or questions about your new living arrangement. A rental agreement outlines expectations, what you can and cannot do with your rented space, and the length and use of tenancy.
Your rental agreement should always provide the most accurate information about your current living situation, whether you're the lessor or lessee. Because they're quite comprehensive, you'll need to be sure and read them carefully to note every detail.
So now, what elements need to be included in your rental agreement or lease? You'll want to make sure it checks the following ten boxes:
1 - Names Of All Tenants And Occupants
Imagine living in a house where no one takes responsibility for paying rent or following their lease. All adult occupants should be named as tenants and asked to sign documents provided for your living arrangement. Putting names and signatures in writing keeps everyone accountable.
2 - Rental Price
Spell out your rental payment details to avoid confusion. Clearly explain how much money is due, when it is due, and even how much is due upon moving out. For example, should rent be paid by check or is electronic transfer okay? What are acceptable methods for paying after-the-due date fees? Having everything spelled out before you sign an agreement will keep all expectations clear and help you avoid confusion down the road.
3 - Terms of Tenancy
There are two basic types of tenancy: rental agreements and leases. Rental agreements are typically month-to-month, with automatic renewal until the property owner or tenant terminates the contract. Leases create tenancies that end after a specific term, usually 6-12 months. It's important to note what type of agreement you are being asked to sign.
4 - Description of Rental Property
The entire property of your rental home or apartment should be clearly described in the rental agreement. This means it should have the complete address of the property, including the building and unit number. It should also include any storage areas or available parking spots and any other specific areas you are allowed to occupy during the duration of your living arrangement. Clear descriptions create clear expectations.
5 - Security Deposits and Fees
Getting the correct information in writing is not just a good idea; it's also a requirement in some states. Be very clear on the dollar amount of your security deposit, how it can (and cannot) be used, and how and when any remaining balance will be returned upon moving out. Additionally, pay attention to any fees related to pets (We're looking at you, dog/cat owners).
6 - Repair and Maintenance Policies
Make sure you clearly understand who is responsible for maintaining the property. For example, are you responsible for replacing light bulbs, or is the landlord? What about a broken kitchen cabinet? Furthermore, do a walk-through of the rental unit, make a note of any pre-existing damage directly on the rental agreement, and agree on any needed repairs before you sign a document. Agree on who will pay for anything beyond normal wear and tear during your tenancy and get in writing. Your rental agreement should also spell out a procedure for handling maintenance requests. Phone call? Email? Letter? Make it clear so you know how to communicate if/when the need arises.
7 - Rules and Important Policies
It's not always easy to know the most important rules for your living arrangement. That's why you should have written regulations covering everything from blatantly illegal activity to smoking rules and boundaries related to pets. Pay special attention to any restrictions related to expectations around cleanliness in hallways or common areas. The more you know what's expected of you, the more you can stay on the same page with your roommates or landlord.
8 - Property Entry Procedure
There will likely be times the person who owns the property will need to enter your space, such as to make needed repairs or show your unit to potential new renters when you're ready to move out. To ensure all parties are on the same page, your lease or rental agreement should clarify how property entry will work. For example, a 24-hour notice before the owner or property manager enters to make repairs or show the unit to potential renters is standard. The laws on entry can vary from state to state, so be sure to research this too.
9 - Contact Information
Communication procedures and expectations should be spelled out in the rental agreement, including appropriate phone numbers, preferred email addresses, and any other approved communication methods, including instant messaging or texting apps like WhatsApp. Although phone calls seem the most intuitive, you'll want to have a way to keep a record of all your communication with the landlord or property manager, so other means may be best. This is to protect all parties if a miscommunication arises.
10 - Required Disclosures
The property owner must disclose any known material defects in the property, including lead paint or a history of bed bug infestations. Also, if you have any questions about what is in the rental agreement, your landlord should be able to give you clear and straightforward answers. If not, move on to the next rental opportunity.
Stay Calm and Carry On
Renting a new place can be a lot of work on the front end, but spelling everything out in a rental agreement is essential for communication and peace of mind during your tenancy.
Need help finding a rental agreement that works for you? You're in luck! We have this handy template that covers the basics; best of all, it's free!