Understanding a Standard Lease

In this age of skyrocketing home prices in California, many residents will find themselves in the residential lease market. When you own a home, you pretty much know who is responsible for everything, but in a lease situation, the rights, responsibilities, and legal obligations of both the tenant and landlord need to be clear.

While some people will conclude a lease on an apartment or home with a handshake, that’s not advisable from a renter’s or landlord’s standpoint. Everything should be in writing to protect both lessor and lessee and avoid disputes that may end up in nasty legal feuds.

If you’re about to enter into a lease, either as a landlord or tenant, or if your lease has resulted in a dispute, contact The Heritage Law Group. Whether you’re in Northern or Southern California, we have law offices to serve you, one in San Jose and the other in Aliso Viejo.

What Makes for a Solid Lease Agreement?

While there are standard lease forms that many landlords use, from a legal standpoint, they may not adequately cover the rights and responsibilities of both parties. A solid lease agreement should cover at least the following points for the protection of both parties:

THE NAMES OF ALL TENANTS AND THE LIMITS TO OCCUPANCY: The lease should list who is going to occupy the structure by name, and it should also state what the occupancy limit is and whether additional tenants can be added and how.

RENT AND TERM OF OCCUPANCY: The lease should state the amount of rent due and the period of the lease, date to date. In a month-to-month rental agreement, in contrast to a lease, the document must state how much notice must be given to vacate the premises, which is typically 30 days for both renter and landlord. The lease should also state when the rent is due, define any grace period, and state how late fees may apply.

SECURITY DEPOSIT: Leasing always requires a security deposit, which by California law is limited to two months’ rent, three if the structure is furnished, and three-and-a-half if there is a waterbed. The lease should spell out if the landlord pays interest on the deposit, which isn’t required under state law, but some localities do require interest payments. California law also specifies that the deposit must be itemized for deductions for repairs and returned within three weeks of the tenant’s vacating the premises.

REPAIR AND MAINTENANCE: The lease should clearly detail who is responsible for what when it comes to maintenance and repairs. The tenant is typically obligated to keep the premises clean, sanitary, and unabused. The landlord should be responsible for repairs to heating, electrical, and ventilation systems, and for installed appliances that malfunction (provided there has been no abuse by the tenant). The lease should also specify that the tenant cannot alter the premises without permission, such as repainting a room or installing a new dishwasher.

LANDLORD ENTRY INTO THE STRUCTURE: Landlords must respect your privacy, but they also have a right to enter your structure for various reasons, so get this part in writing. Giving 24 hours’ notice is a good starting point (except in the case of an emergency).

PETS: Are pets allowed? Which type of animal? What are the restrictions? Is there a surcharge for each pet? All this must be detailed.

RESTRICTIONS ON TENANT ACTIVITIES: A clause should be included restricting disruptive behavior, such as excessive noise, and also illegal activities, such as drug manufacture or dealing.

Landlord Rights and Responsibilities

A landlord has the right to collect rent, withhold security deposit returns, wholly or partially, to cover property damage, and to evict if terms of the lease are broken, including non-payment of rent and violations of the use policy.

The landlord is required to maintain a safe and habitable dwelling for the tenants. If there is a repair request from a tenant, the landlord must respond within a reasonable time frame, which generally means within 30 days but could be sooner depending on the issue.

Tenant Rights and Responsibilities

The tenant must pay rent on time and maintain a clean, safe, and habitable dwelling, as well as adhere to any noise, illegal activity, or other restrictions in the lease.

On the other hand, the tenant can also withhold rent for the landlord’s failure to provide essential services or repairs. California also recognizes a “Repair and Deduct Remedy” right that allows tenants to make repairs and deduct the cost.

If a landlord and tenant end up in a tiff and the landlord retaliates – shuts off electricity or the HVAC system to the structure, or raises the rent punitively, for instance – the tenant can sue for retaliation and recover both damages and attorney’s fees.

Rely on a Knowledgeable Attorney for Issues with Leases

The Heritage Law Group has decades of experience in real estate and lease laws and can guide both landlords and tenants in matters of lease disputes. We can also help draft ironclad lease agreements that protect both landlords and tenants and help stave off disputes before they erupt.

If you need help with a lease or lease dispute anywhere in Northern or Southern California, contact The Heritage Law Group immediately.


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