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Rental House Rules: What to Include in Your Lease

tenant signing leaseIf you’re going to rent your house out, you likely have some pretty concrete ideas of how tenants should conduct themselves while they occupy your home. Unfortunately, whether or not your tenants will automatically share these ideas is anyone’s guess. For this reason, most experienced landlords use their lease contracts to outline policies related to a number of common issues–not only does this help prevent tenants from unwittingly causing problems, it gives landlords grounds to evict the truly unruly. Beyond guidelines for paying rent, you many want to address the following in our lease agreement:

General Conduct
Tenants should conduct themselves in a manner that doesn’t unreasonably disturb other tenants or neighbors. You may want to establish “quiet hours” for your property so that it’s clear when music needs to be turned down and parties need to end. If you’ve split your rental house into two or more units, you should make it clear how common areas, such as the yard, may be used. In addition, you should make it clear that drug use and other criminal activity won’t be tolerated.

Spell out exactly where tenants should and should not park. To prevent your driveway or front yard from becoming a junk yard, you may want to require that non-operational vehicles be removed from the premises after a short grace period.

Garbage Removal
Believe it or not, getting tenants to properly dispose of waste and recyclables can often turn into a major headache. Make it clear that trash needs to be disposed of in a timely manner, that the garbage cans must be taken to the curb on trash day, and that hazardous materials and large items that don’t fit in the trash can must be removed from the property by the tenant.

Alterations to the Property
Everyone wants to make the place they live feel like home, so it’s important to be up front about what changes tenants can and can’t make to the property without consulting you. You should address paint, landscaping, and anything else you think tenants may be tempted to modify.

Proper Use of Outside Space and Common Areas
To ensure your property stays neat, tidy, and hazard-free, let tenants know what they can store outdoors, in common hallways, etc. Barbecues, sporting equipment, and children’s toys are examples of items that frequently find homes on balconies, decks, and in yards.

Proper Use of Plumbing Fixtures
Tenants can often be careless with what they pour down drains, put into the garbage disposal, or attempt to flush down the toilet. Indicate that plumbing fixtures should be used for their intended purposes only, and repairs necessitated by anything outside of standard use will be charged to the tenants.

If you’re going to allow pets, detail the number and type of pets you’ll allow. Require tenants to get your approval before bringing a new animal into the house. You may also want to mention that the yard should be kept free of pet waste. If you’re not going to allow pets, you may want to get it in writing that pet-sitting is not permitted, either.

While it’s certainly fine for tenants to have overnight guests from time to time, you want to prevent a situation where more people are living in the house than you have on the lease. For this reason, it’s a good idea to include some general guidelines on the acceptable frequency and duration of overnight visits. You may want to have tenants request permission if they plan to have guests for longer than a week or so at a time.

Make it clear that tenants need to report maintenance issues immediately, and in writing. You should also describe how repairs will be handled, e.g. that tenants can expect emergency repairs to be addressed within 24 hours and non-emergent repairs to be handled within a week. Remind tenants that if they cause damage, they’re responsible for the repair bill.

Expected Condition Upon Move Out
Write out your expectations for the property’s condition at the end of the lease: paint returned to its original color, nail holes patched, surfaces clean to the touch, all personal belonging and debris removed, etc. This way it will be clear what tenants need to do to get their security deposit refunded.

| June 22, 2012 More