The rental lease is a time-honored tradition and mutual legal protection between landlords and their tenants. The lease defines the responsibilities of both parties; from the security deposit terms to the landlord's duty to provide timely repairs. While the tenant has a chance to look over the lease before signing, ultimately it's up to the landlord to draw up a lease that not only covers the basics but also covers all bases in the landlord-tenant relationship.
Any rule you want to enforce, or procedure you want outlined ahead of time, should be more than a handshake agreement. It needs to go in the lease.
So before you open your property for a new tenant, ask yourself the following questions. Your answers will help you define key lease terms that will inform your future tenants of what you expect, require, and allow.
1) How Do I Feel About Pets?
Every landlord feels differently about pets, and those feelings will define how you write your pet clause. If you can't tolerate pet smells and advertise your units as allergen-free for sensitive tenants, then you may disallow pets entirely. Many cautious landlords only allow cats, terrarium pets (like lizards or hamsters), and small well-behaved dogs.
Even the most pet-welcoming landlords write a few limitations into the lease in order to protect their properties. Larger dogs may be OK, but only one at a time, or only after you confirm that they are well trained.
Determine how you feel about pets in your investment homes and write the lease accordingly.
2) Will I Allow Smoking Under Limited Conditions?
Modern landlords, especially here in California, must carefully decide how they feel about smoking in the house. While cigarettes are progressively less popular among today's tenants, alternatives are on the rise and you'll want a clear universal smoking policy.
Many landlord ban smoking entirely in order to protect their properties from any lingering smells or the notorious wall discoloration from cigarettes. However, it's also common for landlords to define smoking protocols in order to broaden their pool of potential tenants.
A nice patio or upstairs balcony can make outdoor-only smoking quite pleasant. Be sure to include in your lease whether smoking is not allowed on the property or if smoking is permitted under limited conditions.
3) How Will I Handle Long-Term Guests?
Long-term guests are another tricky situation you'll need to decide on. Some landlords are very strict about guests while others don't mind if a tenant's relative or friend stays for months as long as the rent is paid.
The possibility to consider is that long-term guests can essentially become new tenants who are not on the lease and someone you may not approve of. While most tenant guests are respectful and well-behaved, there's always a risk that they will not be.
Your lease should clearly define how long you're comfortable with guests staying and how you'd prefer to handle situations where tenants want to house a guest for a longer period of time. This will help tenants make plans with family and friends in a way that works for you.
Often, the best solution is to offer a temporary duration lease for tenants who plan to stay longer than a month or two.
4) What is My Maintenance Procedure?
There are two types of landlord maintenance duty, and both must be clearly defined in the lease. First is your duty to respond to tenant maintenance needs in a timely manner. Your lease should indicate who your tenants should call and how quickly you can ensure repairs are started.
The second duty is to keep the building in top condition before problems arise. Make sure your lease defines how often you'll be dropping by for maintenance tasks, how much warning you'll give tenants, and who they should expect at their door.
If you work with a property maintenance team, consult with them on how your lease terms should reflect tenant interaction with their services.
5) Are There Additional Tenant Responsibilities?
Finally, define whether or not your tenants have responsibilities beyond simply keeping the home in good condition and reporting maintenance problems.
If, for instance, you expect tenants to keep the lawn looking nice, to water the potted plants, or put food out for the property kitty, don't surprise them with an "Oh, by the way..."
Instead, include it in the lease. This way, tenants officially agree to perform these tasks when they take up residence.
Boilerplate leases are a great place to start, but every property and landlord are different. Your preferences for tenant behavior, duties, protocols, and permissions should be clearly defined in the lease. When this is done, tenants can know exactly what they're getting into before arrival and can use the lease to look up your house rules if, say, they want a new pet or to let a relative stay with them for a few months.
For more great property management tips from lease writing to tenant services, contact us today!