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Leases Explained

House & Apartment

This article explains residential leases and goes over some basics that all renters should know.

What is a lease?

A lease is a legal contract between a property owner and an individual or company who is granted the ability to utilize that property for a specific purpose. A lease can be either oral or written. It is always recommended to have a written lease. There are many different types of leases such as cell phone leases, auto leases, and property leases to name a few.

What is a residential or apartment lease?

A residential lease allows someone to rent a home or an apartment to live in. The parties of this contract are:

  • Landlord - The individual or management company who rents out the property.
  • Tenant - The person(s) who are renting the property to occupy as their home

Important things to look for in a residential lease.

You should be aware of what is in your lease. Some common items include:

Term – This is the length of the lease. Typically, the lease will be for a period of 1 year. However, a lease can be for any length of time. Be aware of what happens at the end of the lease. The lease may state that a tenant must renew the lease or it may state that the lease will convert to a month-to-month tenancy. A month-to-month tenancy is what is sounds like – a repeating month-long lease. Be aware that if you are in a month-to-month tenancy, the landlord or the tenant only must give 30-days’ notice before ending the lease. If the term of the lease is more than 1 year it must be in writing or it is unenforceable.

Description of Property – A lease must include an accurate description of the property being leased.

Payment Method – A lease must state how the tenant will pay the landlord if the landlord has a preference. For example, the landlord may require payment by a check or other traceable means.

Security Deposit – The lease must include any amount required as a security deposit in the lease. A security deposit is an amount a landlord can require in addition to rent at the start of a lease. A security deposit is used to cover any damages which are not from normal wear and tear. The lease may also state that the deposit can be used for any rent not paid by the tenant.

Insurance – The lease may require the tenant to maintain renter’s insurance.

Default by Landlord – This section will explain how the landlord could be in breach of the lease. Typically, this section will be about the landlord’s failure to fix a problem on the property which affects the safety and health of the tenant. Many times, the lease will give remedies which the tenant may proceed with if the landlord breaches the lease.

Default by Tenant – This section will explain how a tenant could be in breach of the lease. This will include failure to pay rent and failure to follow any other provision of the lease. For example, if the tenant has a dog when the lease specifically states no dogs allowed, that is a breach. Just as in the Default by Landlord, there will be a section as to the remedies a landlord may take against a tenant who breaches the lease. Examples of remedies include evictions and penalty fees.

Notice to Vacate – The lease may state an amount of time the landlord has to give in a Notice to Vacate in case the tenant breaches the lease. The Notice to Vacate tells the tenant that they have a certain number of days to move out. If the tenant does not move out by that time, the landlord can then ask the court to evict the tenant. If the lease is silent, the law says that the Notice to Vacate must give the tenant at least three days to move out before filing an eviction case. Typically, a lease will allow less than three days for the Notice to Vacate.

Lead Based Paint Hazard Disclosure

Please be aware that a Lead-Based Paint Hazard Disclosure must be included with a lease in a residential home which was built prior to 1978.

Example Lease

You can view a sample lease form here.

Important: You have a right to have an attorney review your lease prior to signing. This is highly recommended.

Can my landlord amend my lease?

A lease is a contract between the landlord and the tenant. Neither the landlord nor the tenant may change the lease unless both of them agree. A landlord cannot force a tenant to sign an amendment to a lease.

Important: If the lease has converted to a month-to-month tenancy, a landlord can change the terms. This includes the amount of rent to be paid. However, the landlord must give 30-day’s notice before any changes can take effect.

More Information

The Texas State Law Library has more information about leases here.