When to Use

  • You are a landlord, property manager, or property owner and want to rent or lease the property to one or more residential tenants.
  • The tenant will occupy the property for a fixed term or periodic term, such as a week-to-week, month-to-month, or year-to-year tenancy.
  • You want an agreement that protects your property from negligent tenants with options for security deposits, co-signers, standard fees, and clear responsibilities.

Other Names for This Document

  • Residential rental agreement – While a “rental agreement” typically means a month-to-month tenancy and a “lease agreement” means a fixed-term tenancy, both agreements offer the same protections.
  • Use a commercial lease agreement when the tenant does not live on the property but instead uses it to conduct business.

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Help Guide

Our residential lease agreement offers the most comprehensive protection for landlords available on the web. This form contains everything you need to quickly and effectively execute a strong agreement. This help guide provides an overview of some of the key provisions of the agreement.

Fixed-Term vs. Periodic Tenancy

When completing the agreement, you will be given the choice between creating a fixed-term or a periodic tenancy agreement. A fixed-term tenancy is simply a tenancy agreement that states that it will end on a specific date in the future, usually about six months or a year from the start of the tenancy. A periodic tenancy has no set end date and usually continues from month to month until one of the parties chooses to terminate the tenancy.

Many states provide fixed-term tenants different rights than periodic tenants. This most commonly impacts the tenant's rights upon terminating the agreement or being evicted. The proper procedure for cancelling a fixed-term or periodic tenancy depends on the terms of the agreement and state law. If you choose to create a fixed-term tenancy, this agreement states that the tenant must provide 30 days' notice of his or her intent not to renew the agreement when it expires.

For fixed-term tenancies, the agreement will automatically expire at the end of the term. If the tenant holds over by staying on the premises and the landlord does not notify the tenant to vacate the unit when the agreement ends, then the agreement will convert to a periodic tenancy and continue on a month-to-month basis until terminated.

If you choose a periodic tenancy, then either the landlord or the tenant may terminate the agreement by serving the appropriate amount of notice in compliance with state law, which is usually 30 days' notice.

Rental Payments

This section of your agreement sets out how often rental payments are due. A monthly payment structure is most common. However, you may also choose for rent to be paid weekly, twice per month, every two months, every six months, or once per year.

When specifying the location where the tenant must make payments, you may include multiple locations as a convenience to the tenant. You may also provide the details for any online payment portal in this section. The same applies when identifying the accepted payment methods. You may allow the tenant to pay via check, cash, direct deposit, wire transfer, credit card/debit card, money order, cashier's check, online, or all of the above. You may also add custom payment methods.

Signing Incentives

Signing incentives are great ways to motivate potential tenants to agree to longer-term leases or higher rental payments. You may add the details of any signing incentive you have agreed on. Signing incentives include rent concessions or other extra benefits that are not standardly included for your tenants. Even if an incentive is normally provided to all tenants, it may still be a good idea to include it here so that the tenants are clear on the details.

Optional Fees and Deposits

You may choose to add fees for late rental payments, dishonored payments (i.e. bounced checks due to non-sufficient funds), and lost keys. Note that some states limit the amount that may be charged for certain fees. See our FAQ for your state's rules. If included, the relevant sections of your agreement will contain standard language enforcing the landlord's right to collect the fees. You also have the option of requiring additional fees or deposits by entering your own custom language.

Security Deposit

In the absence of a security deposit, tenants are still required to pay for any damage they cause to the property. However, it is recommended that the landlord always require tenants to pay an upfront security deposit. This will help ensure that the tenant pays for any damage discovered by the landlord at the end of the tenancy and helps avoid costly litigation that would be required to enforce the agreement in court.

Note that most states impose requirements on security deposit maximums, refund time frames, and accrued interest on deposits. Review the following FAQs for state-by-state rules.

The landlord may use the security deposit to repair any damage the tenant causes beyond normal wear and tear to the premises, the common areas, and any furnishings provided by the landlord. "Normal wear and tear" means deterioration that occurs when the premises or any furnishings provided, are used as intended, without negligence or abuse by the tenant or any of the tenant's guests or subtenants (if permitted).

Lastly, the agreement spells out specific requirements that the tenant must follow in order to have all or part of the security deposit returned. Such requirements include the following:

  • The full term of the agreement has ended or the agreement has been properly terminated according to its terms
  • All rent and outstanding fees or charges have been paid by the tenant
  • All utility bills are paid in full
  • All keys and other items belonging to the landlord have been returned
  • All of the tenant's personal property has been removed
  • The unit has been thoroughly cleaned

Substitute Tenants

You have the option of including a provision that allows the tenant to break the agreement by presenting the landlord with substitute tenants. This allows the current tenants to be released from the agreement. The landlord may refuse to accept any substitute tenants presented if the landlord has reasonable grounds for the refusal. The landlord may also negotiate a new agreement on any terms desired.

It may be a good idea to include this provision so that the tenants are aware of this option ahead of time. Even if you do not choose to include it, the landlord can always agree to allow for substitute tenants later on.

Subletting

The tenant may not sublet out the property to other occupants without the prior written consent of the landlord. Doing so is grounds for the landlord to terminate the agreement and pursue eviction.

Move-In/Move-Out Inspection Checklists

This agreement includes a comprehensive Move-In/Move-Out Inspection Checklist to provide evidence of the condition of the property and to facilitate the security deposit return process. It is highly recommended that this checklist be completed both at move-in and move-out regardless of the state in which this agreement occurs; however, state law requires that a move-in checklist MUST be completed in the following states:

  • Arizona – Tenants also have the right to be present at a move-out inspection (Arizona Revised Statute 33-1321(c)).
  • Georgia – Only required if the property is managed by a third party such as a property management service or if the landlord owns 10 or more rental units (O.C.G.A. 44-7-36). Prior to tendering a security deposit, the tenant shall be presented with a comprehensive list of any existing damage to the premises, which shall be for the tenant's permanent retention. The tenant shall have the right to inspect the premises to ascertain the accuracy of the list prior to taking occupancy. The landlord and the tenant shall sign the list and this shall be conclusive evidence of the accuracy of the list but shall not be conclusive as to latent defects. If the tenant refuses to sign the list, the tenant shall state specifically in writing the items on the list to which he or she dissents and shall sign such statement of dissent (O.C.G.A. 44-7-33a).
  • Hawaii – Tenants also have the right to be present at a move-out inspection (HRS S. 521-42(6)).
  • Kansas – Completed jointly within five days of initial occupancy or delivery of possession (Kann Stat. Ann. 58-2548).
  • Kentucky – Tenants have the right to separately inspect the premises in order to ascertain the accuracy of the landlord's list of damages (Ky. Rev. Stat. Ann 383.580(2)).
  • Maryland – Only required if the landlord collects a security deposit (Md. Code Ann. S. 8-203.1(a)(1)).
  • Massachusetts – Only required if the landlord collects a security deposit (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Cha. 186, Section 15B(1)(b)(iii)).
  • Michigan – Leases must include a checklist with the following 12-point boldface type at the top of the first page: "You should complete this checklist, noting the condition of the rental property, and return it to the landlord within 7 days after obtaining possession of the rental unit. You are also entitled to request and receive a copy of the last termination inventory checklist which shows what claims were chargeable to the last prior tenants." (Mich Comp Law 554.608(4)). The seven-day return time frame may be shortened in the lease (Mich Comp Law 554.608(3)).
  • Montana – Only required if the landlord collects a security deposit (MCA 70-25-206).
  • Nevada – NRS 118A.200(3)(k)
  • New Hampshire – N.H. Rev. Stat 540-A:6(I)(b)&(c)
  • North Dakota – Must be signed by the landlord (ND Century Code 47-16-07.2).
  • Utah – Utah Code Ann 57-22-4(3)
  • Virginia – Completed within five days of move-in by the landlord or tenant or both together, and the landlord must disclose within this report the known presence of mold (VA Code 55-248.11:1–2).
  • Washington – Only required if the landlord collects a security deposit. Both the landlord and tenant must sign, and the tenant must receive a copy.
  • Wisconsin – Only required if the landlord collects a security deposit (Wis. Stat. 704.08). The tenant has a right to inspect the rental unit, give the landlord a list of defects, and receive a list of damages charged to the prior tenant (Wis. Admin Code DATCP 134.06(1)).

Lead-Based Paint Disclosures

For properties built before 1978 (i.e. pre-1978 property), federal law requires that the landlord and tenant (and their agents) sign a "Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint," which is included for you. Landlords must keep the signed copy of the "Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint" for at least three years as compliance with the rules. Tenants must also receive the federally approved lead hazard information pamphlet "Protect Your Family From Lead in Your Home" or a similar pamphlet approved for use in your state by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Note that in Maryland, rental properties built before 1978 need to be registered with the state and pass an inspection prior to every change in occupancy. For more information, visit the Maryland Department of Environment (MDE) website.

Note that in Vermont, landlords are responsible for providing the federal pamphlet mentioned above, posting an approved notice asking tenants to report chipped or damaged paint, and attending an approved training program for lead paint maintenance annually. For an example of an approved notice, see page 65 of this Vermont Rental Guide.

State and Local Disclosure Requirements

There are many important state disclosure requirements that need to be disclosed before or at the signing of the rental or lease agreement. For instance, landlords are often required to disclose serious problems that affect the rental unit's habitability; any housing code violations; mold or flood zone warnings; radon warnings; bed bug disclosures; carbon monoxide, asbestos, and other warnings; the presence of a methamphetamine laboratory or a flood at the unit prior to the tenant's occupancy; whether the property is located in a military zone; and local rent control rules. When in doubt, it is always best to disclose these and similar issues. Especially if the property is covered by rent control, make sure to research local regulations for required disclosures. These can be found on your city or county website, or by contacting the office of your mayor, city manager, county administrator, or a locally licensed attorney.

Residential lease agreements for mobile home tenants may have specific laws associated that are not included in the form for your state. Be sure to research your state's specific laws on mobile home site rental agreements to ensure your agreement complies.

A note on Wisconsin law: In Wisconsin, landlords are required to disclose any nonstandard provisions, if any, in a separate written document entitled "NONSTANDARD RENTAL PROVISIONS," which the landlord provides to the tenant (see Wis. Admin. Code ATCP 134.06). Therefore, if you desire to include any requirements for the return of the security deposit, any landlord's right to enter the premises not specified by law, or any other nonstandard provision according to Wisconsin law, make sure to ALSO provide these provisions in a separate document in compliance with state law.

Final Steps

Once finished completing the agreement, simply have all parties sign and date where indicated. Be sure that all parties get a copy of the agreement to retain for their records.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a residential lease agreement?

A residential lease creates an agreement between a property landlord and one or more tenants that allows the tenants to occupy a residential property in exchange for payment. The agreement specifies the rights and obligations of all parties involved. It normally terminates after a fixed term, such as six months or one year.

A residential lease agreement differs from a residential rental agreement in that it lasts for a fixed term. A rental agreement continues as a periodic tenancy (i.e. week to week or month to month) indefinitely until one of the parties provides notice that it wishes to terminate the agreement.

When should I use a residential lease agreement?

These days, a thorough and well-written residential lease agreement is essential for ensuring that the rights of both landlord and tenant are upheld. It provides valuable recourse to parties whose rights are infringed upon. This dramatically reduces the likelihood of disputes between the parties in the future and helps ensure all parties fulfill their end of the bargain.

What needs to be included in a lease or rental agreement?

If you search around the Internet, you will find leases and rental agreements that vary widely in terms of length, thoroughness, and format. Every state has different laws as to what must be included. However, more states agree that, at a minimum, the following items must be included:

  • The name and address of all parties involved: For residential leases, the address for the tenants will normally be the address of the unit being occupied. Additional details may be included, such as phone numbers and email addresses.
  • The term of the agreement: Agreements may be for fixed terms, such as six months or one year, or they may be periodic, such as week to week or month to month. If it is a fixed-term agreement, it should indicate the move-in and move-out dates.
  • Rental payment terms: These terms include how often rent will be paid, the payment amount, where payments may be made, and the permitted payment methods (i.e. cash, check, card, direct deposit, money order, etc.).
  • Deposits and fees: Deposits are normally refundable whereas fees are not. Landlords should always specify when charges are nonrefundable. Many states set maximums on security deposits, usually at one or two months' rent. The agreement should state the circumstance when the landlord may make deductions from the deposit and the requirements tenants must follow for the security deposit to be returned. Deposits and fees are also commonly charged for pets, lost keys, non-sufficient funds (i.e. "bounced" checks), and storage and parking spaces.
  • Utilities and maintenance responsibilities: The agreement must be clear as to who is responsible for paying each utility and should explain the maintenance and repair obligations.
  • Prohibited uses and activities: Tenants are prohibited from engaging in illegal activities on the premises. The agreement normally includes a laundry list of specific prohibitions, including items that are not allowed upon the property (i.e. hazardous materials, illegal substances, and potentially dangerous or destructive items like grills, space heaters, and waterbeds).
  • Termination: The manner of terminating the agreement differs depending on the type of tenancy, preferences of the parties, and state law requirements. The agreement should also specify remedies for the landlord in case the tenant holds over occupancy beyond the term of the agreement or abandons the unit early without paying for the remainder of the term.
  • Disclosures: Any federal or state disclosures for the lease or rental agreement must be included, attached, or separately provided to the tenant. For instance, federal law requires landlords to provide information about lead-based paint for properties built prior to 1978. Some states also have specific disclosure requirements for things like bed bugs and registered sex offenders.
Recommended Additional Items

Additionally, for these agreements to properly serve their function and protect the interests of all parties involved, it is also a good idea for them to include language regarding the following items:

  • Non-delivery of possession: If the landlord is unable to give the tenant possession of the property upon the commencement of the term, then the tenant will not be required to pay rent until, and starting from, the date they obtain occupancy.
  • Right of entry: This section explains the circumstances that the landlord may enter the property and how much notice is required. Landlords normally must provide at least 24 hours' notice in order to enter the unit to make repairs or to show it to prospective tenants. No notice is usually required during genuine emergency situations.
  • Tenant's right to withhold rent: Tenants are not allowed to withhold rent for making necessary repairs to the unit except in very narrowly defined circumstances and after giving landlords proper notice and a reasonable amount of time to make repairs (usually 30 days' notice).
  • Constructive eviction: This occurs when a landlord does not physically or legally evict a tenant, but causes a substantial interference with the tenant's occupancy, usually rendering the property uninhabitable. Often this is due to the landlord's neglect or interference with the tenant's use and enjoyment of the property. Examples include failure to provide or repair necessities (i.e. heat, water, and utilities), failure to provide a reasonable means of entering and exiting the unit (i.e. changing locks or blocking an entrance), and refusing to clean up health or environmental hazards.
  • Insurance: Unless the parties agree otherwise, the landlord is not required to carry insurance to cover damage to tenant's personal property or loss caused by fire, theft, water, or any other causes. Tenants are responsible for carrying any insurance required by law. The agreement can also list other types of insurance coverage tenants are required to maintain.
  • Property taxes: On residential leases, landlords are normally responsible for paying property taxes. However, for commercial leases, tenants may be held responsible for property taxes, building insurance, and maintenance (called a triple net lease).
  • Adjustments: Rent may be increased only at the expiration of fixed-term leases. LegalNature's agreement requires at least 30 days' notice for such an increase. In most states, rent may be increased at anytime during a periodic tenancy—such as month-to-month leases—after providing 30 days' notice. Additionally, landlords in most states may pass property tax increases through to tenants upon 30 days' notice.
  • Assignment and subletting: Tenants may not assign or sublease their interest in the rental property without the landlord's prior written consent.
  • Furnishings and appliances: The agreement should identify any furnishings and appliances being supplied by the landlord.
  • Unique features: Since every rental property is different, leases should be tailored to the unique features of the premises. Common examples include provisions on keys, parking, pets, and smoking. Local and building ordinances may impact landlords' rules in this regard.
  • Indemnification: This provision helps protect landlords from liability for claims related to the rental property. It states that the landlord may not be held responsible for any damage or injury that occurs on the property unless it arises from the gross negligence or willful misconduct of the landlord or the landlord's agents. 
  • Notice: This provides the proper way to give written notice to the parties under the agreement and includes their contact information. 
  • Move-in/move-out inspection: It is always a great idea to use a move-in and move-out inspection checklist to record any damage existing on the property. This will go a long way to preventing conflicts at the end of the tenancy and provide proof of damage or lack thereof should the conflict escalate to court.

What is the difference between a lease and a rental agreement?

While some people use the terms "lease agreement" and "rental agreement" interchangeably, technically a lease agreement is used to create a fixed-term tenancy (terminating on a set date; for example after one year), while a rental agreement creates a periodic tenancy (automatically renews until one of the parties decides to terminate it; for example a month-to-month tenancy).

When may tenants make deductions from their rent?

When landlords lease or rent residential property there is an implied warranty of habitability. This means that they must provide a safe and habitable living space at all times. If landlords fail to provide this, tenants have the option of withholding all or part of their rental payment until the problem is fixed.

Note that certain elements must normally be present for tenants to legally make rent deductions. For this reason, it is advisable to consult a real estate attorney before making deductions. These elements include the following:

  • The landlord must have knowledge of the defect or condition. It is recommended that the tenant save proof of multiple requests made to the landlord to fix the problem. Emails works best for this.
  • The defect or condition must endanger or materially impair the health, safety, or well-being of the occupants.
  • The defect or condition must not have been caused by the tenant or an agent or invitee of the tenant.
  • The defect or condition must be present inside the rental unit or substantially interfere with the tenant's occupancy.

With commercial property, there is no warranty of habitability. Instead, the terms of the contract will be the primary controlling factor of when rent may be withheld, if at all. Still, courts in some states have said that an implied warranty of suitability and fitness for a particular purpose exists for commercial leases.

What is the difference between fixed-term and periodic tenancies?

A fixed-term tenancy is simply a tenancy agreement that states that it will end upon a specific date in the future, usually about six months or a year from the start of the tenancy. A periodic tenancy has no set end day and usually continues from month to month until one of the parties chooses to terminate the tenancy.

This leads to another important distinction: fixed-term tenancies are created by lease agreements while periodic tenancies are created by rental agreements. Therefore, the title of your agreement will change depending on your choice.

Many states give fixed-term tenants different rights than periodic tenants. This most commonly impacts the tenant's rights upon terminating the agreement or being evicted. The proper procedure for cancelling a fixed-term or periodic tenancy depends on the terms of the agreement and state law.

What is the difference between a deposit and a fee?

In the context of property leasing, deposits are normally refundable, while fees are nonrefundable one-time payments. Tenants must be notified if they are being charged a "deposit" that is nonrefundable.

For instance, security deposits are meant to protect landlords against tenants not paying for any damage they cause. At the end of the tenancy, deductions may be made from the deposit as permitted by state law, and the remaining funds must be returned to the tenant.

Examples of common fees include upfront fees for pets, administration costs, application processing, and cleaning fees.

What is the difference between a sublet and an assignment?

An assignment occurs when a tenant transfers its entire interest in a leased property for the remainder of the term of the lease to another party. A sublet occurs when the tenant transfers anything less than its entire interest. 

When an assignment occurs, tenants are normally released from all responsibility for the lease. However, it is important to note whether the terms of an assignment actually give a full release from all responsibility. Sometimes the language will keep the original tenant on the hook if the new tenant fails to pay rent or otherwise fails to fulfill its obligations.

On the other hand, with a sublease the tenant remains ultimately responsible if the subtenant fails to uphold its responsibilities. This is because, technically, there is no agreement between a landlord and a subtenant. The landlord must seek recovery against the original tenant. Often, subleases are temporary in duration, with the subtenant moving out of the property before the term of the original tenant's lease agreement expires.

How much notice is required before a landlord can enter a property?

In most states, landlords may only enter a tenant's unit in an emergency or after providing sufficient notice, as defined by state statute or court opinions. Even after providing notice, state law often limits the reasons landlords may enter the property in order to protect tenants' privacy. Most commonly, landlords are required to provide at least 24 hours' notice, provide the reason for entry, and schedule the entry during normal business hours.

Under state law, landlords can normally enter the property for the following reasons:

  • During a genuine emergency—for instance, to stop flooding or to provide access to medical personnel during a medical emergency
  • To make repairs and conduct routine maintenance
  • To show the property to prospective tenants
  • When the landlord has reason to believe the property has been abandoned by the tenant

What is constructive eviction?

This occurs when a landlord does not physically or legally evict a tenant, but causes a substantial interference with the tenant's occupancy, usually rendering the property uninhabitable. Often this is due to the landlord's neglect or interference with the tenant's use and enjoyment of the property.

Examples include failure to provide or repair necessities (i.e. heat, water, and utilities), failure to provide a reasonable means of entering and exiting the unit (i.e. changing locks or blocking an entrance), and refusing to clean up health or environmental hazards. Additionally, constructive eviction can occur if the landlord causes or fails to stop extreme, dangerous, or illegal nuisances—for example, excessive noise, smoke, or odor; dangerous safety threats; or permitting illegal drugs or weapons on the property.

Typically, three elements must be met:

  • The landlord must have committed a wrongful act or omission constituting a substantial interference with the tenant's occupancy.
  • The tenant must notify the landlord of the problem and the landlord must fail to take steps to remedy the problem.
  • The tenant must actually leave and cease occupying the property.

Although they are not caused by landlords, natural disasters, such as earthquakes, flooding, and fires, may amount to constructive eviction if they render the unit uninhabitable and the landlord is unable to fix the damage in a reasonable time frame.

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Checklist

Step 1: Gather Information

As you complete your residential lease agreement, you will need to provide certain relevant information. This will include items such as landlord and tenant addresses and contact information, lease start and end dates, and rent and security deposit amounts. Any special agreements and work orders for the unit should be determined at this stage as well. Often, landlords use rental applications to facilitate collecting and documenting this process.

Step 2: Answer Key Questions

Use the information you collected to complete the agreement. We make this easy by guiding you each step of the way and helping you to customize your document to match your specific needs. The questions and information we present to you dynamically change depending on your answers and the state selected. Click below to get started.

Step 3: Review and Sign

It is always important to read your document thoroughly to ensure it matches your needs and is free of errors and omissions. After completing the questionnaire, you can make textual changes to your document by downloading it in Microsoft Word. If no changes are needed, you can simply download the PDF version and sign. These downloads are available by navigating to the Documents section of your account dashboard.

Step 4: Distribute and Store Copies

At a minimum, all parties that sign the document should receive a copy once it is fully executed (everyone has signed). Other interested parties may need or want copies as well. Be sure that you store your copy in a safe location. It is a good idea to keep both a physical and electronic copy.

Step 5: Periodically Review and Update

It is easy to forget the ins and outs of your residential lease agreement. Periodically reviewing it will help you to stay familiar with any responsibilities or requirements so that you can determine when it needs changes or additions.

If the landlord and tenant wish to renew the agreement for an additional term (typically one year), then you will need to update the lease with the new dates as well as any other agreed upon changes prior to the expiration of the current term. When using LegalNature, your answers are always saved in your account to make this process fast and easy.

Step 6: Complete Related Documents

As noted above, using a rental application may help offer additional protection. It is also highly recommended for landlords and business owners to create an LLC in order to hold and protect their property title and business from many personal liabilities that often plague sole proprietors.