About Residential Leases

Most landlords understand that the most important document in a landlord-tenant relationship is the lease. This document spells the relationship out in writing and the components of this document are enforceable in a court of law providing that no local, state or federal laws are violated.

A standard lease can usually be purchased in office supply stores, stationary stores that sell legal forms, or in book stores that have real estate sections. You can also go to a lawyer and have one drafted specifically to meet your own needs. There is no law that restricts you from doing that. We do suggest that if you are going to draft your own lease agreement, that you have an attorney look at it to be sure you are not violating any Fair Housing or Anti-discrimination laws that would render your contract void in a court of law.

A lease is a contract between an owner of real estate (lessor/landlord) and a tenant (lessee). It is a contract to transfer the lessors’ rights to exclusive possession and use of the property to the tenant for a specified period of time. The lease establishes the length of time the contract is to run and the amount the lessee (tenant) is to pay for rent. Other rights and obligations are set forth in the lease as well.

In most states, the Statute of Frauds requires lease agreements for more than one year be in writing to be enforceable.

To be valid, a lease must meet the same requirements of any other contract:

Capacity to Contract:

The parties must have legal capacity to contract

Legal Objectives:

The objectives of the lease must be legal

Offer and Acceptance:

The parties must reach a mutual agreement on all the terms of the contract


The lease must be supported by valid consideration. Rent is the normal consideration given for the right to occupy leased premises. However, the payment of rent is not essential as long as consideration was granted in creating the lease itself. Sometimes, for instance, the consideration is labor performed on the property. Because a lease is a contract, it is not subject to subsequent changes in the rent or other terms unless these changes are in writing and executed in the same manner as the original lease.

When using a pre-printed (store bought) lease, be sure to fill in all the pertinent information. The leased premises should be clearly described. Make sure you fill in the complete address, and the floor or apartment number if applicable. The beginning and ending dates of the lease should be filled in correctly.

The lease may allow the landlord to enter the property to perform maintenance, make repairs, or for other stated purposes. The tenant’s permission is usually required and may be stipulated in the lease.

For any items that are not covered in the lease that a landlord feels may become an issue during the tenancy, a written addendum, or rider, should be added to the lease.

For example, we have listed some items that you may want to consider adding an addendum for:

Bounced checks
Additional occupants
Handling of Security Deposit
Grace period on rent and late fees
Use of the yard
Yard maintenance
Maintenance of common areas
Use of driveway or garage
Use of basement or attic for storage
Washing machines
Loitering in front of the house/building
Installing satellites on your roof or building
Damages beyond normal wear and tear

Need Landlord/Tenant forms? Visit Nolo.com for all your legal needs.

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