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Tenant Leases and Rental Agreements

Your lease is the cornerstone of the relationship between you and your landlord. Before renting a house or apartment, it's important for you to read the lease thoroughly and ask questions about paragraphs you don't understand. This article has some important information about lease provisions, how to alter a lease, and the consequences of breaking a lease.

Important Terms to Have

While leases will vary from landlord to landlord, every lease should have at least a few clauses clarifying the landlord-tenant relationship. Some of the most important provisions include:

  • The names and contact information of the landlord and all the tenants;
  • The amount of rent, when it's due, and how to pay it;
  • Which utilities are the tenants' responsibility and which utilities will be covered by the landlord;
  • Who is responsible for outdoor maintenance;
  • How to contact the landlord for repairs;
  • Whether you are allowed to sublet the apartment or assign it to someone else;
  • How you may terminate the lease and the consequences of breaking it; and
  • How long you may stay in the apartment before a new lease is necessary.

Be sure to read the lease carefully in case additional restrictions apply. For example, some landlords will not allow pets or smoking in the unit, or may have restrictions on noise levels.

Changing the Lease

At some point, while renting, you may need to change the lease terms. For example, one of your roommates may need to be replaced, or you may want to extend your lease term. It's sometimes possible to change your lease if you request the changes politely and your landlord is willing to be flexible.

If you are looking to make a major change to one of the lease terms, be sure to make the request in writing. That way, your landlord can consider the request without the pressure of an immediate response. A written request will also help clarify exactly what you want to change about the lease.

If the landlord then agrees to the request, work with them to create a new lease with the relevant provisions changed. Be sure the new lease is signed before you begin acting in accordance with the new provision.

Breaking the Lease

Breaking a lease is a huge inconvenience for both the tenant and landlord, and is considered a breach of contract in many states. This means that technically, the tenant is responsible for paying the rent for the rest of the lease term even after the tenant moves out. However, any party to a contract has a "duty to mitigate damages." In a landlord-tenant setting, this means that the landlord must work to find a new tenant as soon as possible. Tenants are not typically responsible for the rent after a new tenant has moved into the apartment.

If you need to break your lease for some reason, be sure to tell your landlord as soon as possible so they can make any necessary arrangements. Some landlords will be more flexible than others. You may want to help the landlord find a new tenant, offer to pay to have the apartment professionally cleaned, or anything else that will ease the transition as you move out.

For more information, see FindLaw's sections on lease agreements and tenant rights.

Get Legal Help With Your Tenant Lease and Rental Agreement Concerns

Sorting out the legal details of your lease agreement and making sure your interests are covered before signing is a smart approach, since you are signing a legal contract when you agree to a lease. Sometimes it helps to get feedback from a legal professional. Find an experienced landlord-tenant law attorney near you.

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