What provisions/clauses should be in a lease?
Renting property to another person can be an intimidating prospect. The best way to handle this process is to have a lease created that specifically addresses potential problems that may arise and lays out specific rules that must be followed by both the landlord and the tenant. By creating a lease and having both parties bound to it (both the landlord and the tenant), many problems can be avoided, or at the very least, handled more efficiently and effectively. In order to best protect both the landlord and the tenant, a lease should be tailored to the specific needs of each party involved and should be carefully reviewed by the tenant and the landlord before either party commits to its terms. Having a lease itself, however, will not protect both parties from all foreseeable problems, although it will usually provide a least a basis for understanding how certain issues can, or must, be resolved.
Whether you are considering renting property yourself, or if you are a tenant looking for a property to rent, the following lease provisions should be carefully considered.
- The Essentials
Every lease should at a minimum contain the name of the parties involved, their relationship to each other (ie the landlord and the tenant), the date that the lease is entered into, the date the landlord must give the tenant possession of the property, the address of the specific property, the agreed upon rental price and any other fees that might be assessed, the term of the rental agreement, and the means in which either party must provide notice of any material changes (such as a written 30-day notice on behalf of the tenant prior to termination of the lease).
The lease should state specifically what types of actions could result in eviction. Actions that typically are sufficient grounds for eviction include non-payment of rent, criminal conduct on the premises, or a breach of any of the lease provisions. There may be additional reasons for evictions, however, that the landlord should specifically state within the lease to insure there is no confusion between the two parties.
- Repairs and Maintenance Provisions
The lease should contain some sort of provision discussing how a tenant can report any maintenance problems or need for repairs to the landlord. A provision outlining how a tenant should notify the landlord protects not only the landlord, but also the tenant. By having a specific system in place, the landlord is able to insure that all requests for repairs are received in a timely manner and leaves little room for doubt as to whether a tenant provided notice of an issue or not. Similarly, having a system outlined in the lease can protect a tenant by providing the tenant with a means by which to insure that their issues are being received by the landlord and will also provide the tenant with a way to prove that the landlord was notified of the problem if the issue should ever come in front of a judge.
Along with having a system for notifying the landlord of any maintenance issues, the lease should also contain a provision detailing how long the landlord has before the problem must be repaired. While Utah has a law that requires landlords to make any repairs that threaten the health or safety of the tenants within a specific number of days, any repairs that are not affecting the health or safety of the tenant should still be remedied within a reasonable period of time. The best way to make sure that the parties are agreed upon the definition of “reasonable time” is to define this term within the lease itself.
Similarly, the lease should state what the landlord is responsible for repairing and what the tenant is responsible for repairing and/or maintaining.
- Breaking the Lease
The lease should contain a provision that outlines how a tenant or landlord can terminate a lease early, and what, if any, fees or notices are required. There should also be a provision that states when a lease can be terminated without any fee being incurred. There are certain situations in which the landlord is prevented from charging an early termination fee, such as if the tenant is the victim of domestic violence and needs to move for their own safety.
- Increase/Decrease in Rent
Along with stating what the specific amount of rent will be, and when it is due, the lease should also discuss when, if ever, the landlord can raise or lower the rental amount. By having this provision in writing, the tenant will be assured that any changes in rent will not come as a surprise. This provision should also include a term that states when, or how, a tenant may be able to extend the terms of their lease.
The lease should state who, either the tenant or the landlord, is responsible for obtaining utilities and for paying the utility companies directly. If the landlord is responsible for providing utilities, the lease should also contain the cost of each utility that will be charged.
- Common Areas
If there are common areas that are around the rental unit, the lease should describe specifically which areas are considered “common areas” and the tenant and landlord’s respective responsibilities towards the maintenance of these areas.
This is an important provision that many people will gloss over, either because they think it will not apply to them, or because it is difficult to find in the lease. Before signing a lease, both parties should be aware of when fees beyond the rental fee can be charged and how much these fees will be. A general example is a fee that is charged for late payment of rent. If a late fee provision is in the lease, it should state when the fee applies (how many days after rent is due before the fee applies), how much the fee is and whether it is a flat fee or a fee that will be applied each day the rent is late.
Other fees that may be included are fees for cleaning, fees for breaking certain lease provisions, and/or fees for pets.
- Bugs/Pest Control
The lease should state who is responsible for pest control. In some instances, an infestation of certain pests can constitute a health and safety hazard to the tenants. When this occurs, it is often the responsibility of the landlord to restore the rental unit to a safe condition.
Service animals are not considered pets under Utah law. Therefore, if a person has a service animal, then the landlord may not charge any additional fees or rent. Similarly, a landlord may not refuse to rent an apartment to someone who has a service animal citing to a no-pet policy. While a landlord can choose whether or not to allow a tenant to keep a pet within the unit, they cannot deny housing to someone merely on the basis that they have a service animal.
If pets are allowed, there should be a specific provision stating what type of pets are allowed, whether there are any breed or weight restrictions, and what type/amount of fees can be charged in addition to the usual rental amount. In some instances a landlord may also reserve the right to change the pet policy or to request that a specific pet be removed from the unit if it causes too many issues.
- Hotel Bills & Moving Costs
There is no law that requires a landlord to reimburse a tenant for any hotel bills or moving expenses incurred by the tenant if the unit becomes uninhabitable through no fault of the tenant. The tenant may be able to have rent abated for the period of time when the unit was uninhabitable, or may request a refund of rent if the rent was already paid. However, if a landlord does not willingly abate or refund rent, the tenant would be required to sue the landlord in Small Claims Court in order to receive any money back from the landlord. In order to prevent this from occurring, there should be a lease provision that outlines how rent will be abated if the unit becomes uninhabitable through no fault of the tenants.
- Services instead of Rental Fees
In some circumstances, the tenant and landlord may come to an agreement whereby the tenant will provide services to the landlord in exchange for being allowed to live in the unit free of charge or in lieu of a deposit or fee. These agreements are legal, however, if they are not in writing, they can be very difficult to enforce. If an agreement is made between the tenant and the landlord that the tenant will perform some service (usually some sort of repairs or maintenance) in exchange for a reduction in rent or any other kind of monetary abatement, the agreement should always be put in writing, preferably in the lease. Without written proof, the landlord can attempt to evict the tenant for non-payment despite any services the tenant has already rendered, and in many situations, will be successful if the tenant refuses to make any sort of payment.
- Mediation/Arbitration Clauses
The lease should state whether arbitration or mediation is required to settle any disputes between the tenant and the landlord. If there is such a provision, the provision should also state who is responsible for paying for the cost of the mediation/arbitration and if any specific organization should be used for this.
While these provisions should be considered by anyone entering into a lease agreement, this list is not exhaustive. If there are any unique circumstances that either party wishes to include in the lease, it should be added as a written provision in the lease prior to either party signing the lease agreement.