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What Is In Your Lease - General Provisions
It may seem pretty obvious that your name and the name of the landlord must appear in the lease agreement, but there are some nuances that you should really know about. First, some background. Names are included in a lease because in order for a contract to be valid, there are a few items that are absolutely required, names and signatures of the parties to be bound is one of them. This means that any contractual claims can be made against the person or business that signs here; however, that doesn't mean they're the only liable party in case something goes wrong. In this section, an agent of the landlord can sign. For example, in one of my prior leases, I had a rental company draw up and sign the lease. That company was not the owner, rather an agent for the owner. When I had to sue that company, I opted to sue the owner instead because the owner was ultimately the one responsible for whatever goes on in that agreement. In order to find out who the real owner is, you may have to search the land deeds in your county. Fortunately, this is all public record, so it is an easy search.
Another obvious provision, but the amount of rent due is a required value in a lease agreement. If you don't have the rent amount, or at the very least a clear way to determine rent with no ambiguity, your lease will not be valid. No matter the price, if it is definite, it is a valid amount. It could be for $1 per month or $1,000,000 per month, as long as it is definite. Similarly, it will typically be valid if the price fluctuates, but everyone reading the lease would come to the same value. For example, you may owe $20 for each day in the upcoming month. In January, you would owe $620. It cannot, however, read you will owe a later agreed upon value because that later value would be the new lease contract.
Leases may include a term, or duration, of the lease. This is a little more complicated because some states require a set term to be listed, and others have a default term if one is not. Here, in North Carolina, if a term is not listed, the lease is a month-to-month lease for the set value. In order to break a month to month lease, a tenant or landlord must give at least 45 days notice. (This is a simplified calculation of notice because the notice requirement is obscure. You're safe with 45 days). If a lease is for term, usually 1 year, it cannot be broken until the end of that term. If the tenant stays in the apartment and keeps paying rent, he or she becomes a month-to-month tenant, and sometimes a tenant for the full term again if the lease, or different state law, provides that.
This is actually a very important and seldom analyzed portion of the lease. I know that I used to glaze over this section because I just assumed what the agent showed me was mine. This is not always the case, especially when it comes to items that are "common property." Your leased property that is exclusively yours will be bound by what is in the lease. Anything that is not listed in the lease is not yours. At one of my prior properties, I had leased a 2 bedroom apartment that had a backyard. My apartment was the only one with a door to the backyard, so I assumed and was told that area was exclusively mine. As it turns out, it was a shared portion of the property with the upstairs neighbors, so I had less property that I was leasing and I didn't know it. This wasn't all bad news because any shared property is the responsibility of the landlord to maintain, unless there's some specific (and enforceable) provision in your lease that requires your maintenance. Generally, these aren't enforceable because you can't require a tenant to clean up after another tenant, or make repairs on shared property. Additionally, although you may be personally liable for injuries that occur in your leased area, in the shared spaces, your landlord is liable.
It is almost unheard of for a rental company to not require a security deposit, but fortunately, all states have maximums allowed to be required. In North Carolina, one year and greater leases cannot have a security deposit of more than two months rent. For monthly leases, no more than one and a half months rent, and for weekly leases, no more than two weeks rent.
Hint: To prevent your security deposit from being withheld at the end of your lease, take pictures of video of the apartment before you move in and after you move out to demonstrate the conditions of the place. The landlord will have to prove that you damaged the apartment before he or she may withhold your security deposit. Additionally, normal wear and tear is not allowed to be withheld from your security deposit.
Series and Disclaimer
This hub is part of an ongoing series. Please feel free to comment with provisions of your lease that you do not understand or want explained. These hubs are based primarily on North Carolina law, but much of North Carolina law is the same in other jurisdictions. The content of these hubs will be made as general as possible and no names or actual places will be used.
The content of this article was made for educational purposes only, and was not created to be legal advice or create an attorney client relationship. If you need legal advice, please consult an attorney.
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