If your landlord is a large corporation or a person who only owns a single home or anything in between you should always protect yourself by making sure you have a written lease agreement. A written lease not only protects you, it also provides a written record of your agreement so everyone is on the same page.
A rental agreement doesn’t have to be fancy or use any magic words; but it should be typed, signed, and a copy of the lease given to both the landlord and the tenant to be kept in a safe place. Scanning and emailing is a great way to create a record that you cannot lose or misplace.
A lease should contain:
- The name of the tenant and the landlord and any property manager.
- A description of the home or apartment including a unit number.
- The start date and the end date of the lease, if the lease has an expiration date.
- The amount of rent, the due date of rent including any grace period, and how and to whom rent is to be paid.
- How to terminate the lease before the expiration date, including any early termination fees.
- The amount of the security deposit, if any, and what kind of bank account it will be kept in.
- What utilities will be paid by the landlord, and what utilities will be the responsibility of the tenant.
- Any amenities or common areas that are available for the tenant’s use, such as
poolor tennis courts.
- What appliances, if any, are included with the home or apartment.
- The parking situation, and whether or not there are reserved parking spaces.
- House rules, for example rules about pets, noise, and consequences for rule violations.
- How the landlord would like to be contacted for repair requests (Email, phone, web portal, etc.), including emergency repair requests.
- The circumstances permitting the landlord to enter the rental unit including notice requirements for the tenant.
- Any repairs that the landlord promised to make before you moved in.
Some contract provisions are illegal in Georgia. It does not matter if the landlord puts them in the lease or not; they are unenforceable and you should be wary of a landlord who puts any provision that:
- Restricts or waives your right to sue the landlord for discrimination based on race, creed, nationality, or gender.
- Restricts or waives your right to sue the landlord for failing to repair or maintain the property.
- Allows the landlord to avoid following the law, especially health, safety, or building codes.
- Requires you to make repairs to the home that are the landlord’s responsibility.
Some lease provisions are not illegal but are bad for the tenant therefore, many large, corporate landlords pay lawyers to write long, dense contracts that place as many restrictions on the tenant as possible. Read everything carefully, and if the lease is very long or confusing consider asking for a simpler agreement. Therefore, a lease for a home or apartment does not need to be more than five pages long.
Remember that everything in a contract is negotiable, but if you are unhappy with a provision in the lease you can always ask for the landlord to change it. The landlord initials and dates that are changes. Above all, if your landlord abuses his tenant the lease is often your first weapon!