Standard Residential Lease Agreements

The Standard Residential Lease Agreements are documents that structure a rental arrangement in which one (1) or more tenants (called “lessees”) rent a residential property from a landlord (the “lessor”) so long regular payments are made to the landlord until the end of the lease. 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 form, 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 provide as a great ballpark value. However, it is imperative to only compare properties that are very similar to the property what will 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

AlabamaOne (1) month's rent (with exceptions)§§ 35-9A-101 to 35-9A-603
AlaskaTwo (2) month's rent.
(with exceptions)
§§ 34.03.010 to 34.03.380
ArizonaOne and a half (1.5) month's rent.§§ 33-1301 to 33-1381; 33-301 to 33-381
ArkansasTwo (2) month's rent.§§18-16-101 to 18-16-409
CaliforniaTwo (2) month's rent.CA Rental Guide
ColoradoNo limit.§§ 38-12-101 to 38-12-302
ConnecticutTwo (2) month's rent. (with exceptions)§§ 47-a-1 to 47-a-20f
DelawareNo limit (for first rental year).§§ 5101 to 5907 (Part 3)
FloridaNo limit.§§ 83.40 to 83.682
GeorgiaNo limit.
HawaiiOne (1) month's rent. (with exceptions)
IdahoNo limit.
IllinoisNo limit.
IndianaNo limit.
IowaTwo (2) month's rent.
KansasOne (1) month's rent.
(with exceptions)
KentuckyNo limit.
LouisianaNo limit.
MaineTwo (2) month's rent.
MarylandTwo (2) month's rent.
MassachusettsOne (1) month's rent.
MichiganOne (1) and a half month's rent.
MinnesotaNo limit.
MississippiNo limit.
MissouriTwo (2) month's rent.
MontanaNo limit.
NebraskaOne (1) month's rent.
(w/ exceptions)
NevadaThree (3) month's rent.
New HampshireOne (1) month's rent or $100. (w/ exceptions)
New JerseyOne and a half month's rent (1.5). (contains exceptions)
New MexicoOne (1) month's rent.
New YorkOne (1) month's rent.
North CarolinaOne (1) and a half month's rent. (with exceptions)
North DakotaOne (1) month's rent. (with exceptions)
OhioNo limit.
OklahomaNo limit.
OregonNo limit.
PennsylvaniaTwo (2) month's rent. (with exceptions)
Rhode IslandOne (1) month's rent.
South CarolinaNo limit.
South DakotaOne (1) month's rent. (contains exceptions)
TennesseeNo limit.
TexasNo limit.
UtahNo limit.
VermontNo limit.
VirginiaTwo (2) month's rent.
WashingtonNo limit.
West VirginiaNo limit.
WisconsinNo limit.
WyomingNo limit.

Rental Lease FAQ

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 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. 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