Why is the Lease Important?
Authored By: Georgia Legal Services Program®
- What Is a Lease and Why Is it Important?
A lease is the contract between a landlord and a tenant. The lease sets forth the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. The lease allows the tenant to occupy and use, for a specific period of time, land and structures on that land. In return, the tenant generally pays a set rent. The lease may set forth other duties and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant. Once the parties sign the lease both are bound by its terms. Landlords should select their leases with care. Before selecting a lease, a landlord may wish to consult with an attorney who regularly handles landlord and tenant matters. A tenant should carefully read a lease before signing it.
- What Should a Lease Contain?
The lease is a contract between the landlord and the tenant. Unless the lease contains illegal provisions, a court will require the landlord or tenant to do what the language of the lease requires. The answer to most landlord-tenant questions can be found in the lease between the parties. A comprehensive lease should include the following:
· Names of the tenant, the landlord or the landlord's agent and the person or company authorized to manage the property.
· A description of the rental unit, identifying the appliances included in the unit and the heat and cooling sources.
· The amount of rent and the date it is due, including any grace period, late charges or return check fee charges.
· How rent is to be delivered to the landlord and whether by check, money order or cash.
· Methods to terminate the agreement prior to the expiration date and what, if any, charges will be imposed.
· The amount of the security deposit and the account where it is held.
· Utilities furnished by the landlord and, if the landlord charges for such utilities, how the charge will be determined.
· Amenities and facilities on the premises which the tenant is entitled to use such as swimming pool, laundry or security systems.
· Rules and regulations such as pet rules, noise rules and whether or not breaking such rules can be grounds for eviction.
· Identification of parking available, including designated parking spaces, if provided.
· Pest control, if provided, and how often.
· How tenant repair requests are handled and procedures for emergency requests.
- What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Written Lease?
The advantages of a written lease are generally considered to be certainty and clarity. The lease sets the rent for the lease term. Unless the language of the lease states otherwise, rent cannot be increased during the lease term. A lease spells out the obligations of the tenant and landlord. If there are any disputes between the tenant and the landlord, the lease represents what was agreed upon by the parties. Where there is not a written lease, there are often misunderstandings between the tenant and landlord. The primary disadvantage of a lease is that it binds the tenant to the premises for a specified amount of time. Therefore, if you are planning to live in the unit for a very short period of time, you may not want a lease. Leases can be made for any length of time, so you could ask the landlord if the lease could be written for the time period you expect to live in the unit. Alternatively, if you may have to move due to a job transfer during the term of the lease, you can ask that the lease include a provision allowing the tenant to terminate without a penalty if the move is required by the employer. Similarly, if you intend to buy a house during the rental period, you may ask that the lease include a provision allowing you to terminate without a penalty upon closing on a home. Georgia law does give a tenant the right to break a lease because they are buying a home or being transferred by their employer.
- Does a Tenant Have Any Rights When There Is Not a Written Lease?
A tenant who occupies rental property with the landlord's consent and makes rent payments without a written lease is called a "tenant-at-will." Georgia landlord-tenant law, including eviction laws and security deposits laws, still apply. A tenant-at-will has the right to occupy and use the rented premises subject to any restrictions upon which the landlord and the tenant have agreed. Because there is not a written lease, Georgia law regulates the type of notice which a tenant-at-will and the landlord of the tenant-at-will must give to terminate or change the original rental agreement. A tenant must give thirty (30) days notice to the landlord to terminate or change the original agreement. A landlord who has a tenant-at-will must give sixty (60) days notice to the tenant before seeking to terminate the agreement or change any term of the original agreement. This means the landlord must give a tenant-at-will sixty (60) days notice before imposing a rent increase. To protect your legal rights any and all notices should be in writing. When a tenant-at-will fails to pay rent, the landlord is not required to give the sixty days notice before terminating the tenancy. If the tenant-at-will fails to pay rent, the landlord can demand possession and immediately file a dispossessory warrant seeking possession in court.
- Aren't All Leases "Standard"? What Difference Does it Make Whether the Tenant Reads the Lease Before Signing It?
Although many leases are similar, there is no such thing as a "standard" lease provided or approved by any public agency or court. Lease agreements differ from landlord to landlord. Therefore, it is very important to read the lease carefully before signing it. The lease is a legal document which defines the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. Both the landlord and the tenant will be held to the language of the lease. If there are provisions in the lease which you do not understand, get help. Ask someone you trust to explain what the language means. Be careful of lease terms which provide for the following:
· Automatic renewal of the lease for a specified time;
· An extremely long lease term with penalties for early termination;
· Automatic rent increases during the lease term;
· References to rules which are not provided to you;
· Any attempt by the landlord to make you responsible for repairs;
· Leases which provide that the tenant pays the landlord directly for utilities rather than being billed by the utility provider;
· Provisions which require the tenant to pay the landlord's attorney fees if a landlord hires an attorney to enforce the lease, unless the provision also makes the landlord responsible for the tenant's attorney's fees;
· Lease terms which claim that the landlord can evict you without going through the dispossessory process; and
· Lease terms requiring the tenant to have renter's insurance.
Before a lease is signed, a tenant may request changes to the lease. Some landlords will agree to the changes. Others will not. Even if the landlord will not alter a lease, the tenant needs to read it to decide whether or not to sign. If signed, both the landlord and tenant will be required to comply with the lease.
- When Should the Tenant Get a Copy of the Lease?
It is a good idea to get a copy of the lease before signing so that you will have a chance to review it. A tenant should be given a copy of the lease and any rules or regulations referred to in the lease after both the landlord and tenant have signed. If the landlord does not voluntarily give the tenant a copy of the lease and rules and regulations, the tenant should request a copy in writing. Since the lease spells out the tenant's and landlord's responsibilities, it is important for both parties to have a copy of the lease to answer any questions. Keep your lease in a safe place.
Georgia Legal Services Program
Last Revised: December 2003
- What Should a Tenant do Before Signing a Lease?
The lease is a contract. Unless the lease contains illegal provisions, a court will require the landlord and tenant to do what the language of the lease provides. The answer to most landlord-tenant questions can be found in the language of the lease between the parties. A comprehensive lease should include the following:
* Names of the tenant, the landlord or the landlord's agent and the person or company authorized to manage the property.
* A description of the rental unit, identifying the appliances included in the unit and the heat and cooling source. If it is a house, a description of the property rented.
* The time period for which the property is rented and the date the lease ends.
* The amount of rent and the date it is due, including any grace period, late charges or return check charges.
* How rent is to be delivered to the landlord and whether payment may be made by check, money order or cash.
* How to terminate the agreement prior to the expiration date and what, if any, charges will be imposed.
* The amount of the security deposit and the account where it is held.
* Utilities furnished by the landlord and, if the landlord charges for such utilities, how the utility charge will be calculated.
* Amenities and facilities on the premises which the tenant is entitled to use such as swimming pool, laundry or security systems.
* Rules and regulations such as pet rules, noise rules and whether or not breaking such rules can be grounds for eviction.
* Identification of parking available, including designated parking spaces, if provided.
* Pest control, if provided, and how often.
* How tenant repair requests are handled and procedures for emergency requests.
* Under what circumstances the landlord can enter the property and with what notice to the tenant
- When should the tenant be shown the apartment?
The tenant should insist on seeing the apartment they will be renting before signing a lease. A tenant should not sign a lease before inspecting the unit they will be renting.
- The resident manager of my apartment complex refuses to provide me with the name and address of the property owner. How can I find out the name and address of the property owner?
Georgia law (O.C.G.A.§44-7-3) requires that at the time the lease is signed the tenant isgiven the name and address of the property owner or his authorized agent for purposes ofreceiving legally required notices. The tenant should also be given the name and address of theperson authorized to manage the property. If after signing the lease, there is a change in thedesignated individuals or their address the landlord should give notice to the tenant within thirtydays of the change. Such notice may be sent to each individual tenant or posted in an obviousplace such as the complex office or the community bulletin board. You may be able to find theowner of the property or the designated agent for service through the intranet using the GeorgiaSecretary of State's website at www.sos.state.ga.us. If you were not given the required information when you signed the lease, the person who signed the lease for the landlord becomes the agent of the landlord for receiving notices, and performing the obligations of the landlord.
- How Can the Tenant Find out Who Owns the Property?
At or before the tenant signs the lease or moves in, the landlord or his agent is to disclose to the tenant in writing the names and addresses of the following persons:
* The owner of the property or a person authorized to act for and on behalf of the owner for the purposes of serving of process and receiving and receipting for demands and notice; and
* The person authorized to manage the premises.
If there is a change in any of the names and addresses required to be contained in such statement, the landlord shall advise each tenant of the change within 30 days after the change either in writing or by posting a notice of the change in a conspicuous place. If the landlord fails to provide the above notice, the person who had you sign the lease or authorized your move in is considered the agent of the owner and you can deliver all notices and demands as well as serve any lawsuit against the owner to them just as if they were the owner.