Standard Residential Lease Agreements

A Standard Residential Lease Agreement is a legal contract formed between a landlord and a tenant that allows the tenant to live in a home, apartment, or condo in exchange for consistent rent payments. In contract terms, the person renting the property is called the “lessee,” and the landlord is formally known as the “lessor.” The common term of a standard lease is one (1) year, although the length is ultimately up to the landlord to decide.

What is a Standard Residential Lease?

A standard residential lease agreement is a type of fixed-term lease, that once signed, requires the parties involved to adhere to the conditions outlined in the lease agreement. While a lease cannot physically prevent a tenant from damaging property or skipping out on rent payments, it gives the landlord legal weight to evict the tenant as well as sue the tenant in order to collect any damages. The famous saying, “the best offense is a great defense,” couldn’t apply more to leasing; a landlord should ensure only tenants that pass an in-depth rental application be permitted to lease a property. Not only does this save needless headache down the road – it gives landlords ease of mind knowing they did all they could to ensure the tenant is occupied by trustworthy tenants.

Standard Leases by State

The Leasing Process

From getting a rental up to code and advertised, to introducing the first tenants into a property, the rental process should be taken with great care and due diligence in order to do it right the first time. The overview below provides landlords and property owners with a checklist to get a rental property up and running.

Step 1 – Prepare the Home

Providing a deep clean isn’t enough. Before being ready to accept tenants, a rental property should be pest free, have working appliances, be up to code, and free of any hazards or dangers. Remember: attempting to cut costs will only delay the pain. The tenant(s) will complain and request repairs, or worse, bring the manager of the property to civil court. It’s always better to ensure everything is repaired and in good shape before accepting tenants.

The following form can be used for ensuring a property is ready to accept tenants:

Rental Property Checklist (Word | PDF)

Step 2 – Determine the Monthly Rent

The rent that is set for the property needs to cover any costs associated with the property and accurately reflect rent averages for the area. In total, the following should be considered when determining a rent price:

  • Cover all expenses – The rent needs to cover all expenses relating to the home, including taxes, mortgage payments, property management services, and any repair/ongoing maintenance costs.
  • Compare rentals in the area – Seeing what other rentals are going for in the area can provide a great ballpark value. However, it is imperative to only compare properties that are very similar to the property to be rented.
  • Judge the current market – In an upmarket, rentals will be less desirable due to lower interest rates leading to an increase in homeownership. Rentals perform better in a downmarket, leading to a wider audience of rentals. Supply and demand leads to an ability to increase the rent price.
  • Property value – By far the largest determinant of monthly rent is the value of the leased home or apartment. To calculate monthly rent based upon property value, take the total value of the rental and multiply anywhere from .08% to 1.1%.

Step 3 – Create a Lease Agreement

Using a state-specific lease agreement template, complete all applicable fields and save the document without any names or signatures on the agreement. This allows it to be easily reused for subsequent tenants. While writing the contract, check the local state laws to make certain that all fields are legal and sufficiently protect both parties. If the landlord wishes to lease the property on a monthly basis instead of on a yearly one, the month-to-month lease template should be used.

Step 4 – List the Property

To get the property in view of prospective tenants, the rental should be listed online. Taking the time to advertise the property in addition to listing it can give it the publicity it needs to obtain a quality tenant. While some may recommend advertising in a newspaper, with the onset of the internet and the convenience of listing a property with the click of a button, using an online platform is the recommended course of action for landlords and homeowners. The following websites are recommended for advertising an apartment or home rental property:

Step 5 – Screen Tenant(s)

Once a tenant has shown interest in the rental property, is given a full tour, and has requested to rent the property after the viewing, it’s the property owner’s job to require the tenant(s) to complete a rental application. This is a document that provides the owner with a comprehensive history of where the tenant has previously rented, a set of references (past renters, employers, etc.), their employment status and monthly income, any criminal history, whether they have pets or not, and personal information (such as their social security number) that allows the landlord to run a criminal and credit check on the tenant.

Without question, the landlord should request a fee for the application process. This does two (2) things: 1) it ensures only serious tenants apply, and 2) it covers the cost of running the application, which is typically around $20. The following are the types of answers that should make the property owner immediately deny the prospective tenant’s application:

  • The applicant is unemployed
  • Their monthly income is less than three (3) times the monthly rent
  • A reference doesn’t give the applicant a positive review (or says anything other than they were perfect tenants)
  • The tenant tries to argue or is confrontational at any point during the application
  • The tenant has a poor credit score
  • Have had an eviction or bankruptcy in the past ten (10) years

The above are just a sample of the types of answers that should result in a denied applicant. Before issuing an application, a landlord should already have created a set of parameters that result in an applicant being denied. This ensures the property manager is providing all applicants with an equal opportunity at housing.

Step 6 – Sign the Lease Agreement + Condition Checklist

If the applicant passes the rental application, the property owner should set a time and date for the parties to sign the lease agreement. The landlord should highlight all areas where the tenant(s) will need to sign the agreement to ensure a smooth process.

After the agreement is signed, the owner should collect the security deposit and the first month’s rent. The landlord should only accept a trusted payment source for the first month’s rent and security deposit – this can include cashier’s check or money orders.

Once the agreement has been signed and all payments collected, the parties should complete a full condition checklist of the property. This includes noting any damage (holes in walls, counterstains, non-working switches, etc.). It is recommended the landlord takes a video of the property in addition to pictures. This can provide a more detailed look at the property and include areas that otherwise wouldn’t be considered for pictures.

Once the tenant(s) have moved-in, the property owner will have officially accepted their first tenant.

Required Notice + Security Deposits

AlabamaTwo (2) daysOne (1) month's rent (with exceptions)§§ 35-9A-101 to 35-9A-603
AlaskaTwenty-four (24) hoursTwo (2) month's rent.
(with exceptions)
§§ 34.03.010 to 34.03.380
ArizonaTwo (2) daysOne and a half (1.5) month's rent.§§ 33-1301 to 33-1381; 33-301 to 33-381
ArkansasNot specifiedTwo (2) month's rent.§§18-16-101 to 18-16-409
CaliforniaTwenty-four (24) hoursTwo (2) month's rent.CA Rental Guide
ColoradoNo applicable statuteNo limit.§§ 38-12-101 to 38-12-302
ConnecticutNo specific time statedTwo (2) month's rent. (with exceptions)§§ 47-a-1 to 47-a-20f
DelawareTwo (2) daysNo limit (for first rental year).§§ 5101 to 5907 (Part 3)
FloridaTwelve (12) hoursNo limit.§§ 83.40 to 83.682
GeorgiaNo applicable statuteNo limit.§§ 44-7-1 to 44-7-81
HawaiiTwo (2) daysOne (1) month's rent. (with exceptions)§§ 521-1 to 521-82
IdahoNo applicable statuteNo limit.
IllinoisNo applicable statuteNo limit.
IndianaNo specific time statedNo limit.
IowaTwenty-four (24) hoursTwo (2) month's rent.
KansasNo specific time statedOne (1) month's rent.
(with exceptions)
KentuckyTwo (2) daysNo limit.
LouisianaNot specifiedNo limit.
MaineTwenty-four (24) hoursTwo (2) month's rent.
MarylandNo applicable statuteTwo (2) month's rent.
MassachusettsNot specifiedOne (1) month's rent.
MichiganNo applicable statuteOne (1) and a half month's rent.
MinnesotaNo specific time statedNo limit.
MississippiNo applicable statuteNo limit.
MissouriNo applicable statuteTwo (2) month's rent.
MontanaTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
NebraskaOne (1) dayOne (1) month's rent.
(w/ exceptions)
NevadaTwenty-four (24) hoursThree (3) month's rent.
New HampshireNo specific time statedOne (1) month's rent or $100. (w/ exceptions)
New JerseyOne (1) dayOne and a half month's rent (1.5). (contains exceptions)
New MexicoTwenty-four (24) hoursOne (1) month's rent.
New YorkNo applicable statuteOne (1) month's rent.
North CarolinaNo applicable statuteOne (1) and a half month's rent. (with exceptions)
North DakotaNo specific time statedOne (1) month's rent. (with exceptions)
OhioTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
OklahomaOne (1) dayNo limit.
OregonTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
PennsylvaniaNo applicable statuteTwo (2) month's rent. (with exceptions)
Rhode IslandTwo (2) daysOne (1) month's rent.
South CarolinaTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
South DakotaNo applicable statuteOne (1) month's rent. (contains exceptions)
TennesseeTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
TexasNo applicable statuteNo limit.
UtahTwenty-four (24) hoursNo limit.
VermontForty-eight (48) hoursNo limit.
VirginiaTwenty-four (24) hoursTwo (2) month's rent.
WashingtonTwo (2) daysNo limit.
West VirginiaNo applicable statuteNo limit.
WisconsinNo specific time statedNo limit.
WyomingNo applicable statuteNo limit.

Rental Lease FAQ

The following are the answers to commonly asked questions regarding rental lease agreements:

Does a Rental Lease Agreement have to be Notarized?

Notarization is the process of having a certified third (3rd) party officially verify a signature on a legal document. Generally, lease agreements do not have to be notarized. However, certain states, such as Ohio, require leases longer than three (3) years to be certified by a Notary Public.

Although it’s not required, having a lease be notarized is an additional means of security, ensuring a lease agreement is enforceable in a court of law.

What happens if a Tenant Breaks the Lease?

Learning that a tenant has vacated a rental before it’s termination is sobering news, to say the least. However, the importance of remaining calm and collected amid the range of emotions that will be felt cannot be understated. It’s important to understand that a lease is a binding agreement, and with the tenant’s signature, they are guaranteeing they will pay the rent for the entire term of the lease. In the event of a broken lease, the following steps should be taken:

  1. Reach out to the tenant via a letter. Clearly state that they still have an obligation to pay for all remaining rental payments in full, by their pre-arranged due dates.
  2. Inspect the property. Take a detailed report of any damage. If severe (and the tenant is unwilling to pay for it), taking them to small claims court will most likely be required.
  3. Generally, state laws permit the taking of the tenant’s security deposit to cover unpaid rent. This should be done prior to taking the tenant to small claims court.
  4. Begin looking for a new tenant. Each passing month without a new tenant costs the property owner money. Additionally, many state laws prevent landlord’s from collecting rent from the tenant unless they are actively looking for a replacement. If a new tenant is found and moved into the property, the landlord CANNOT continue charging the previously evicted tenant rent.
  5. If the tenant is refusing to pay rent and the landlord hasn’t been able to find a replacement (although they should still be trying to), they can proceed to the “worst-case scenario,” which is suing the tenant. While it should be relatively straightforward once an attorney has been contacted, there is never a guarantee.

Important Exceptions:

In some cases, a tenant can lawfully vacate a rental. They are the following:

  • Uninhabitable Rental: If the property is unsafe, doesn’t provide access to clean/hot water, leaks, is heavily infiltrated by mold, doesn’t have locking doors, or contains pests, for example, the tenant can legally breach the lease.
  • Military Duty: In accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), the tenant can vacate a lease so long they give the landlord a notice of at least thirty (30) days.
  • The Landlord Breached the Lease: Like tenants, landlords are equally responsible for holding up their end of the lease as well as following all state landlord-tenant laws. For example, if the landlord repeatedly showed up (without notice) in a state that requires a minimum of twenty-four hours of notice, the tenant may have a legal right to vacate the lease without notice (or very short notice).

Sample Template