What needs to be included in a lease or rental agreement?

If you search around the Internet, you will find leases and rental agreements that vary widely in terms of length, thoroughness, and format. Every state has different laws as to what must be included. However, more states agree that, at a minimum, the following items must be included:

  • The name and address of all parties involved: For residential leases, the address for the tenants will normally be the address of the unit being occupied. Additional details may be included, such as phone numbers and email addresses.
  • The term of the agreement: Agreements may be for fixed terms, such as six months or one year, or they may be periodic, such as week to week or month to month. If it is a fixed-term agreement, it should indicate the move-in and move-out dates.
  • Rental payment terms: These terms include how often rent will be paid, the payment amount, where payments may be made, and the permitted payment methods (i.e. cash, check, card, direct deposit, money order, etc.).
  • Deposits and fees: Deposits are normally refundable whereas fees are not. Landlords should always specify when charges are nonrefundable. Many states set maximums on security deposits, usually at one or two months' rent. For more information, see our FAQs for security deposit maximums, refund timeframes, and interest requirements for your state. The agreement should state the circumstance when the landlord may make deductions from the deposit and the requirements tenants must follow for the security deposit to be returned. Deposits and fees are also commonly charged for pets, lost keys, non-sufficient funds (i.e. "bounced" checks), and storage and parking spaces.
  • Utilities and maintenance responsibilities: The agreement must be clear as to who is responsible for paying each utility and should explain the maintenance and repair obligations.
  • Prohibited uses and activities: Tenants are prohibited from engaging in illegal activities on the premises. The agreement normally includes a laundry list of specific prohibitions, including items that are not allowed upon the property (i.e. hazardous materials, illegal substances, and potentially dangerous or destructive items like grills, space heaters, and waterbeds).
  • Termination: The manner of terminating the agreement differs depending on the type of tenancy, preferences of the parties, and state law requirements. The agreement should also specify remedies for the landlord in case the tenant holds over occupancy beyond the term of the agreement or abandons the unit early without paying for the remainder of the term.
  • Disclosures: Any federal or state disclosures for the lease or rental agreement must be included, attached, or separately provided to the tenant. For instance, federal law requires landlords to provide information about lead-based paint for properties built prior to 1978. Some states also have specific disclosure requirements for things like bed bugs and registered sex offenders.

Recommended Additional Items

Additionally, for these agreements to properly serve their function and protect the interests of all parties involved, it is also a good idea for them to include language regarding the following items:

  • Non-delivery of possession: If the landlord is unable to give the tenant possession of the property upon the commencement of the term, then the tenant will not be required to pay rent until, and starting from, the date they obtain occupancy.
  • Right of entry: This section explains the circumstances that the landlord may enter the property and how much notice is required. Landlords normally must provide at least 24 hours' notice in order to enter the unit to make repairs or to show it to prospective tenants. No notice is usually required during genuine emergency situations.
  • Tenant's right to withhold rent: Tenants are not allowed to withhold rent for making necessary repairs to the unit except in very narrowly defined circumstances and after giving landlords proper notice and a reasonable amount of time to make repairs (usually 30 days' notice).
  • Constructive eviction: This occurs when a landlord does not physically or legally evict a tenant, but causes a substantial interference with the tenant's occupancy, usually rendering the property uninhabitable. Often this is due to the landlord's neglect or interference with the tenant's use and enjoyment of the property. Examples include failure to provide or repair necessities (i.e. heat, water, and utilities), failure to provide a reasonable means of entering and exiting the unit (i.e. changing locks or blocking an entrance), and refusing to clean up health or environmental hazards.
  • Insurance: Unless the parties agree otherwise, the landlord is not required to carry insurance to cover damage to tenant's personal property or loss caused by fire, theft, water, or any other causes. Tenants are responsible for carrying any insurance required by law. The agreement can also list other types of insurance coverage tenants are required to maintain.
  • Property taxes: On residential leases, landlords are normally responsible for paying property taxes. However, for commercial leases, tenants may be held responsible for property taxes, building insurance, and maintenance (called a triple net lease).
  • Adjustments: Rent may be increased only at the expiration of fixed-term leases. LegalNature's agreement requires at least 30 days' notice for such an increase. In most states, rent may be increased at anytime during a periodic tenancy—such as month-to-month leases—after providing 30 days' notice. Additionally, landlords in most states may pass property tax increases through to tenants upon 30 days' notice.
  • Assignment and subletting: Tenants may not assign or sublease their interest in the rental property without the landlord's prior written consent.
  • Furnishings and appliances: The agreement should identify any furnishings and appliances being supplied by the landlord.
  • Unique features: Since every rental property is different, leases should be tailored to the unique features of the premises. Common examples include provisions on keys, parking, pets, and smoking. Local and building ordinances may impact landlords' rules in this regard.
  • Indemnification: This provision helps protect landlords from liability for claims related to the rental property. It states that the landlord may not be held responsible for any damage or injury that occurs on the property unless it arises from the gross negligence or willful misconduct of the landlord or the landlord's agents. 
  • Notice: This provides the proper way to give written notice to the parties under the agreement and includes their contact information. 
  • Move-in/move-out inspection: It is always a great idea to use a move-in and move-out inspection checklist to record any damage existing on the property. This will go a long way to preventing conflicts at the end of the tenancy and provide proof of damage or lack thereof should the conflict escalate to court.
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