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What Is In Your Lease - Rights and Responsibilities

Updated on January 3, 2013

Pay Rent On Time

Arguably the most important responsibility in the minds of the landlord is for you to pay rent on time, so you had better do it! In some states, including North Carolina, the eviction process is incredibly simple and can be done in less than 10 days. Fortunately, in case you forget to pay by the 1st of the month, a lot of leases contain a provision allowing a grace period. My grace period is 5 days, but on the 6th day, my landlord files an eviction suit.

I recently had a sit down with my own landlord to discuss what she expects from tenants and number one on her list is to pay rent on time. And, late payments of rent are unfortunately common. Do yourself (and your landlord) a favor, and try to have the rent ready by the middle of the month with some sort of Alert to notify you to pay it prior to the 1st of the month. I'd hate to see anyone kicked out of their home, or owe large fees.

Renter's Insurance

Requiring tenants to have renter's insurance is catching on. The first time I hear of this concept, I was leasing an apartment my second year of law school, and I haven't rented a place since that didn't require it. The purpose of the renter's insurance, from the landlord's perspective, is to protect their property in case you accidentally damage it beyond what they can get from you personally. It is also a smart idea to have in case any sort of disaster happens. I have a client whose property caught fire and there wouldn't be any issue if she had renter's insurance; however, we now have to deal with messy and lengthy proceedings to see if the landlord will pay. Take it from me, you do not want to be in that situation.

Vacating the Lease

In most leases, there is a provision or set or provisions about vacating the lease. The requirements of these vary wildly between states, as some require longer or shorter notice periods. My lease, for example, requires 60 days notice before I can vacate at the end of my lease. Otherwise, it will continue as a month to month lease at a higher rate. If your lease doesn't have something like this and you stay, you're a holdover tenant and depending on your state law, you can either be evicted, own the previous rent each month, or have just renewed your lease for the full term automatically.

Read this section carefully because you don't want to be stuck paying rent for a place you no longer want to be at. They will likely require the notice to be made in writing.

Pets

If you have pets, this section will outline the responsibilities you must abide by in order to continue to have the pets at that residence. Most will require your pets to be quiet, for you to clean up after them, and place a limitation on how many and what breeds/types. A lot of these restrictions are actually based on other laws. For example, the noise your pet makes is in violation of nuisance laws and possibly city noise ordinances depending on where you live. It is also upsetting to the other tenants within earshot. The number of pets is frequently regulated by city or state laws. There are health hazards in having 100 cats, not to mention nearly impossible to clean up after! And, restricting types and breeds is based on the insurance company rules. Insurance companies increase cost to insure if a landlord allows a dangerous breed to live on their property. That's just an unfortunate fact.

Noise, Odors, Particulates, and Vibrations

Speaking of pets, leases frequently place limitations on noises, odors, particulates and vibrations. Once again, the reasons are lodged in other areas of law. A nuisance is actually any noise, odor or vibration that passes onto another piece of land that you do not own. You can actually be sued for that (and believe me, you might want to sue others for it). The reason it is a law, and the reason it is in your lease, is because people are allowed to preserve the "quiet enjoyment" of their property. It would serve the landlord poorly if one tenant ruined the experience for all the rest, and most tenants won't enforce their legal right of nuisance against the obnoxious neighbor.

The particulates are things such as cigarette smoke and aerosols. When these pass onto another person's property, it is actually trespass. It's strange how very little difference there is from nuisances, but that's not important. What is important is that these can cause others to lose their quiet enjoyment of their property and can aggravate a person's sensibilities. From someone who does not smoke, if I smelled it in my apartment or home, I would be incredibly upset. Therefore, landlords will rarely allow smoking in a connected apartment building and will forbid particulates from escaping one's own residence.

Permitted Uses of Home

When you rent a residential home, you expect to be allowed to use it for residential purposes. Just like when you rent a commercial property, you expect to be allowed to use it for commercial purposes. But, what happens when these two concepts blur? Are people allowed to sleep in their office every night? Are others allowed to have clients over at their home? A lot of this depends on zoning law and the rest comes from the lease. Most residential leases forbid running a business out of your home, so if that's your plan, you should read that lease carefully to ensure it is not forbidden. Any ambiguity in the lease should be cleared up as well before there is a problem.

Right of Entry

This is one of the provisions I check very closely. This provision outlines when and how a landlord is allowed to enter into your apartment. This can range from anytime for any reason to never without permission. Typically, these right of entry provisions lie somewhere around "in case of emergency or with permission," but there is some variance. If I were a landlord, I would want, for quality of service reasons, to only reserve the right to enter in case of emergency or with permission. I had one landlord that was allowed to enter at any business hours without notice. Needless to say, I modified that lease before signing it.

Assignment and Subleasing

First, these terms need defining. Assignment of a lease is transferring the entire remainder of the lease to a new tenant. Subleasing is transferring a portion of the remainder of the lease to a new tenant. In an assignment, the original tenant retains no rights to the property, but can still be liable if the new tenant cannot pay. This may not be true if the landlord approves the assignment, but that depends on each state. In a sublease, the original tenant is primarily responsible for any rent due or damage done to the property even though a new tenant is currently using it. Once again, if approved by the landlord, the original tenant may escape liability, but it is less likely than with an assignment.

In this section of the lease, the landlord will outline if you're allowed to sublease or assign your lease to a new tenant and what the procedure for doing so would be. Some landlords require approval of a new tenant first, much of this has to do with criminal background checks and credit checks to ensure they'll still get paid. They also don't want too many tenants in one property that isn't zoned for as many tenants as there would be. The landlord does have important considerations when allowing an assignment or sublease.

Maintenance

An important thing to consider when signing a lease is who will be responsible in case things break. Interestingly enough, in North Carolina, the landlord is responsible for any broken appliances they supply and any habitability issues regardless of what the lease states. Other states have very similar statutes, typically called the warranty of habitability. This means your landlord is responsible to fix, as soon as he or she knows, broken heaters in winter, broken ventilation, broken floors, plumbing and much more. If the damaged situation presents a serious risk to you, it's a habitability issue. However, if you broke it, you may be responsible to reimburse the landlord.

The landlord may not be required to fix clogged toilets, broken aesthetic features, slow draining drains, and most anything that does not present a clear and present danger, unless the lease says otherwise. Although the landlord is not allowed to contract away from being responsible for certain things, they may always opt to owe a greater duty to the tenant.

This provision may also outline your duty to fix certain things. A common maintenance responsibility tenants face is to take care of any mold or mildew buildup.

Alterations and Painting

It should be common sense, but you cannot add or removing fixings and supplied appliances/furniture without your landlord's permission. This section outlines what you're allowed to change. Most frequently, this section talks about painting. I'm allowed to repaint my apartment, but I must prime the walls before I vacate so my landlord may repaint.

Automobiles

This is more common in urban areas, but it outlines how many cars you're allowed to have, where you're allowed to park, what you must pay to park there and what types of automobiles are allowed. I'm fairly certain most apartment complexes with parking do not permit motor homes to park there, but what about a small trailer? It should be in your lease.

Have you read your lease?

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