A lease outlines the responsibilities and obligations of both the owner and tenants of a particular apartment or house. It details the rules by which landlords and tenants agree to live. Once signed, a lease governs what landlords and tenants can and cannot do. Should you become involved in a legal proceeding, courts will generally hold you to everything you’ve signed. Leases, therefore, are documents of extreme importance.
Leases are legally binding. If you and your roommates sign a lease, then you and your roommates are bound to the terms of the agreement. Moreover, you and your roommates are jointly responsible in most cases. So if your lease states that the rent is $1,000 a month, then (unless your lease states otherwise) you and your roommates are collectively responsible for the entire sum. If one person does not contribute her or his share, then all tenants on the lease are equally responsible for the missing amount. A landlord is similarly bound to the terms of the lease. Once a lease is signed, no one can be forced to accept additional provisions while the lease is in effect. Always remember to read your lease carefully and do not sign a lease with blank spaces.
Standard clauses in a lease include:
- Names and addresses of all parties involved.
- The amount of rent, when it is due, and if there are late fees.
- The beginning and ending dates of the lease, and how much the security deposit is.
- Who is responsible for paying utilities (e.g., heat, hot water, electric, gas, phone, and cable).
- Whether or not pets are allowed.
- Who is responsible for repairs and maintenance. (Sometimes luxury items like dishwashers are not the responsibility of the landlord to fix.)
- Who is responsible for disposing of trash, cutting grass, and shoveling snow.
- Limits on persons allowed in the rental unit (living or visiting)
- Do not overcrowd a unit or occupy an illegal unit just to lower the rent.
Many yearly leases, if written, will have a section explaining how you can renew the lease. A yearly lease that is not resigned automatically becomes a month-to-month lease when the written lease expires – unless you have moved out.
Leases may contain clauses detailing the conditions under which the lease can be ended prematurely. Sometimes a landlord may require only 30 or 60 days notice that you are renewing or vacating your apartment. If this is the case, it will say so in your lease. Otherwise, you are bound to the conditions of the agreement for the entire period set forth in the lease. If you signed a 12-month lease, then you and your roommates are responsible for, among other things, 12 months’ worth of rent.
Very rarely can a lease be prematurely terminated. If problems occur after you sign a lease, you must correct them as a tenant of the dwelling. Roach infestation, for example, is not necessarily sufficient reason for breaking a lease. There are a number of things you can do to correct problems with your new apartment, but disregarding your written and verbal agreements is not one of them. Likewise, a landlord cannot end a lease ahead of time except under well-defined circumstances. For more information on this, please see our eviction information section.
A security deposit is money that protects landlords against damage beyond normal wear and tear, provides a remedy for unpaid rent, and funds clean up of the rental, if necessary. Almost every landlord will require you to pay a security deposit in addition to your first month’s rent before you move in. A security deposit can be anywhere from one to two times your monthly rent, and will depend on your landlord.
Subleasing occurs when a tenant rents the apartment to a third party (subtenant). The subtenant is responsible to the tenant for performing all obligations set forth in the sublease agreement, and the tenant for performing all obligations set forth in the original lease agreement. This means that finding a subtenant does not release you from your obligations under the original lease. For example, if the subtenant does not pay his or her rent, you remain responsible for the amount due. Before you negotiate a sublease agreement, you must be sure that you are entitled to do so under your lease.
Legal Information Is Not Legal Advice
This site provides information about the law designed to help students cope with their own legal needs. But legal information is not the same as legal advice — the application of law to an individual’s specific circumstances. Although we try to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a lawyer if you want professional assurance that our information, and your interpretation of it, is appropriate to your particular situation.