Signing a lease is an important part of the landlord/tenant process. A leases spells out the terms of the landlord/tenant relationship, namely the amount of rent and how long the lease will last. Most landlords use a standard form lease that is pre-written, and only requires the landlord to fill in the blanks (The Greater Boston Real Estate Board has a form lease that is popular for landlords in the Boston area). Form leases are extremely helpful in drafting a lease; there is no need to “recreate the wheel” in preparing a new agreement when a model lease is available.
However, when using a sample lease, landlords should note that there are important things to include in a lease, many of which are not found in these sample drafts. Here are a few important things that I think every lease should include:
Payment of Utilities: Massachusetts law requires landlords to provide all utilities to tenants, but allows landlords to “transfer” the payment of these utilities . . . in writing. Failure to include, in writing, a requirement that the tenant pay these utilities can be a major problem for a landlord. As such, a statement that the tenant must pay for utilities is one of the most important things to include in a lease.
No Security Deposit: The Massachusetts Security Deposit Law is a pro-tenant law that has many traps for landlords. As such, I (and most other attorneys) advise landlords not to accept security deposits. If you follow this wise advice, include a term in the lease that the landlord isn’t accepting a security deposit from the tenant. This helps prevent a claim for a tenant, down the road, that such a deposit was taken by the landlord, setting up a potential problem at the end of the lease.
Description of the Property: If the rental property is something that is unambiguous (such as an apartment), this might not be necessary. However, if there is any chance that the scope of the rental property may be misconstrued, it is worth including a description of what is, and what isn’t, included in the lease. Use of the backyard, driveway, and other common areas are all important things that should be mentioned in the lease.
Allowance of Guests: The difference between a guest v. a permanent tenant is not always clear. While a tenant generally has a right to have guests at the rental property, only those persons stated on the lease are allowed to live in the property. To keep the difference between a guest and tenant clear, consider a term about how long guests are allowed at the property. This can be helpful if, down the road, the tenant allows others to move into the rental property.
No Smoking: If you do not want your tenants to smoke in the rental property, be sure to include it as part of the lease agreement.
By no means is this a comprehensive list of everything that should be included in a lease; this will depend on your particular circumstances. For help in drafting a lease, contact me for a consultation.