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Details on State Lease and Rental Agreement Laws

When someone agrees to rent or lease a property, they sign a lease or rental agreement outlining the terms of the agreement. It is a legally binding contract between the tenant and the landlord that details the rights and responsibilities of each party. When either party violates the terms of a valid rental agreement, then the aggrieved party may seek relief in civil court. A lease or rental agreement typically includes the cost of the rental, the amount of deposit required, when rent is due, whether pets are allowed, and other rules.

State laws govern certain aspects of lease and rental agreements, including limits on security deposits, deadlines for returning deposits, and rules against discrimination. Generally, these laws are meant to strike a delicate balance by protecting the interests of each party.

See FindLaw's Rental and Lease Agreements section for additional articles, including Sample Letter to a Landlord and Adding a Roommate to the Lease.

The Terms of a Lease

The "terms" of a lease or rental refer to how often the renter pays rent (weekly, monthly?) and how long the tenant is responsible for the paying rent. There is an important legal difference between rentals and leases. The terms of leases are generally for at least one year, though lease payments are usually paid by the month. Meanwhile, terms for rentals are generally month-to-month, although they are occasionally week-to-week. Virtually all states recognize that at the end of a lease, the term converts to a month-to-month rental unless a new lease is signed and the landlord continues to accept monthly payments.

In Missouri, for example, any tenancy that is not made in writing and signed by both parties is presumed to be month-to-month, verbal agreements notwithstanding. In Florida, however, payment of rent after the initial lease has expired is not considered an automatic renewal of terms. But in Pennsylvania, holdovers (tenancies that extend beyond the end of the lease) are presumed to have the same terms as the original lease.

Security Deposits

Most states have statutory limits on the amount of security deposit a landlord may require from a tenant, as well as deadlines for returning deposits at the end of a lease. Usually, these limits on deposit amounts are based on the amount of rent. Iowa, for instance, limits deposits to twice the amount of rent). But not all states limit security deposit amounts, including Illinois and Texas.

Deadlines for returning security deposits, minus any deductions for repairs or cleaning, range from two weeks (Arizona, Nebraska) to 45 days (Virginia, Indiana). Some states don't have deadlines, including Tennessee and West Virginia.

Lease Provisions

Certain lease provisions, such as the amount of rent and the terms of the lease, are required for a valid lease agreement. But a lease or rental agreement also may include the following:

  • Whether tenant is subject to late fees
  • Renewal options
  • Maintenance responsibilities
  • Rules with regard to pets
  • When the landlord may enter the rental property

Some provisions are not enforceable, though. For instance, the landlord may not include a clause that allows the landlord to enter the property at any time without notice or an agreement that the tenant pays for all damages regardless of fault.

Free Initial Case Review

There are similarities amongst the states regarding anti-discrimination provisions and general lease terms, but state laws vary quite a lot. If you are a tenant with concerns about the terms in your specific lease or about your security deposit, then you should talk to an attorney who practices real estate law in your state. Get started with an initial case review today.

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