By Lane V. Erickson, Attorney
There are essentially three basic documents that should be used by a landlord and a tenant in a rental arrangement. These include; (1) the rental application; (2) the lease agreement itself; and (3) a move-in/move-out checklist. By using these documents both a landlord and a tenant understand the terms and conditions of the rental arrangement and both are fairly protected.
1. THE RENTAL APPLICATION
The rental application is immensely useful in eliminating tenants who will likely be a problem for a landlord. Keep in mind, however, that the rental application cannot be used as a tool for violating the FHA. Typically, a rental application will provide information to a landlord concerning a potential tenant’s
- credit history,
- criminal history,
- and renting history.
This information alone is crucial in determining whether a tenant is a good risk. Additionally, a rental application also commonly requires a listing of references as well as contact information for a friend or relative the landlord can contact in case of an emergency when the landlord cannot reach the tenant. Finally, the rental application usually contains language stating that any false or misleading information the potential tenant places on the rental application will lead to immediate termination of the lease.
2. THE WRITTEN LEASE AGREEMENT
The written lease agreement is the document that creates the landlord and tenant relationship. The terms and conditions of the lease agreement can be negotiated between the landlord and tenant to any degree that doesn’t violate applicable law. For instance, a lease agreement for an apartment with language stating that the landlord must provide a 10-day written notice of eviction for breaching the agreement is enforceable. However, a similar lease agreement stating that the landlord does not have to provide any written notice at all or a written notice for a period of time less than three days will not be enforceable due to the legal requirement that at least a three-day written notice be provided.
Typically a lease agreement will identify
- the parties,
- the property to be leased,
- will provide a specific term for the lease (e.g. 6 months or one year), and
- will clearly state the monthly rental amount.
The lease agreement can also allow a landlord to receive interest or fees for late payments, a right to reasonable entry upon the leased premises, can require a security deposit and state the terms for its return (again this section cannot contravene applicable law), and can identify a tenant’s rights concerning subleasing.
It is also recommended that the lease agreement contain an incorporation clause that identifies the other two critical documents including the rental application and the move-in/move-out checklist documents. This clause is nothing more than language in the lease agreement that states that the rental application and the move-in/move-out checklist documents are incorporated into and become a part of the lease agreement.
3. MOVE-IN/MOVE-OUT CHECKLIST
The final document that should be used between a landlord and a tenant in a lease arrangement is the move-in/move-out checklist. This document acts a protection for both the landlord and the tenant and usually involves either the return of the security deposit or the seeking of damages by a landlord after a tenant moves out of the leased premises.
Essentially, the move-in/move-out checklist is nothing more than a description of the condition of the rental property, preferably room by room, given by the tenant at the time he moves in. Ideally, when the tenant is ready to move out, he and the landlord would together go through the rental property again room by room, and would describe the condition of the rental property.
The main reason for the move-in/move-out checklist is to allow both the landlord and the tenant to identify any damage that exists to the rental property and to describe whether this damage occurred before or after the tenant moves into the rental. The more thorough a tenant is in providing information on the move-in/move-out checklist at the beginning, the more protection the tenant has against a landlord who may otherwise attempt to have the tenant pay for damages he didn’t cause. Likewise, a thorough move-in/move-out checklist also protects a landlord against damages that are caused by a tenant while living in the rental property.
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