Leases, traditionally written by lawyers, have become standardized and usually do not require professional legal advice to write. The laws relating to tenancy and property, as well as the requirements of a lease, however, vary by state; find the local statutes for your state or use a form that incorporates local customs. A contract represents a "meeting of the minds" that can only occur predictably when the terms are written specifically and without ambiguity.
It is highly recommend to begin with a generic lease form (see Resources). Use a lease that was written according to the laws and rules of your state and locality. Keep the lease in a form familiar to judges and lawyers to ensure enforceability.
Describe the property. The property being leased must be described adequately so as to eliminate any reasonable confusion. Assuming a lease is for real property, the address, with all relevant detail, is critical. A brief description of the property, such as "the apartment at 101 Maple Street" or "the house at 5611 Thorpe Road" can further designate the parameters of the agreement. The condition of the property should also be described, though this can be done in detail in another document if necessary and included in the lease by reference.
Describe the parties. Usually it is enough to have the lessor's name on the lease, both at the top and bottom (where they sign), though if possible it can be helpful to obtain his driver's license number or Social Security number. Only parties named on the lease agreement are subject to it.
Clarify rent. A valid lease will specify not just the amount of rent, but when it's due, where and how it should be paid and the consequences of late payment. Short of generally accepted practices in your local jurisdiction in accordance with state law, nothing outside of the lease agreement is legally enforceable on the parties.
Describe security deposits and how to claim them. Not only should the amount of the security deposit be included, the lease should also mention when the deposit is due. The process by which a landlord can make claims against the security deposit are usually governed by state law and therefore do not need to be detailed in the lease. When they are, however, they are usually recitations of the relevant laws, of which a landlord should be apprised anyway.
Detail landlord responsibilities. Though the landlord cannot evade his state-mandated responsibilities, such as repairs for fixtures, heating and cooling equipment, and major appliances, certain aspects of a lease, such as payment of utilities, garbage pickup, cable and lawn care, should be made explicit in the lease to avoid confusion.
Include additional policies. Specific policies, such as those pertaining to pets, alterations, commercial use, noise, subletting, insurance and entry by the landlord should be included. Using a form lease will help with language for these policies.
Get witnesses. Having a lease witnessed or even notarized at the time of signing will help its enforceability. A notary, specifically, can administer an oath that the signers understand all aspects of the lease as written.
Be as specific as possible. The power of the lease is greatest where its ambiguity is least.
Portions of a lease can be unenforceable if deemed unconscionable by a judge or competent authority like an mediator. Unconscionable clauses are those that give overwhelmingly one-sided advantage to a landlord beyond general practice in the state where laws set forth the relationship between landlords and tenants
- Be as specific as possible. The power of the lease is greatest where its ambiguity is least.
- Portions of a lease can be unenforceable if deemed unconscionable by a judge or competent authority like an mediator. Unconscionable clauses are those that give overwhelmingly one-sided advantage to a landlord beyond general practice in the state where laws set forth the relationship between landlords and tenants
Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.