Free Lease Agreement: We Search for You
All of us who have owned rental property have had to face the question of getting a lease prepared. Of course, we know – whether we admit it or not – that the best route is to get a qualified attorney with experience in our situation and locale to draft one tailored to our needs. It seems like overkill, though, to pay hundreds (or thousands) of dollars for our first investment house or duplex, right? Especially in this online age it seems there is a free version of almost everything – so why not a free lease agreement? There are, indeed, free leases available online and we’ve spent hours and hours scouring the internet looking for them, reviewing their strengths and weaknesses based on my many years of property management (and hundreds of hours in court actions as attorney pro se arguing these legal points) to make things a little easier on you. However, the old saying “you get what you pay for” does still apply and there are several caveats to consider before leasing your valuable property using something you happened to find on the internet. If you don’t want to bother with this valuable (honest) information and just get to the nitty gritty, links to the individual reviews and our article on which one we think is the best are at the bottom.
Differences in Properties
It makes a really, really big difference if you are leasing an apartment, a business location, or land. Triple net leases apply to land leases, but not usually to an apartment, for just one example. For our purposes, we’ll be looking at typical residential leases (apartments, duplexes, houses); if you need a lease for a business or land lease, it’s more likely you really need to use an attorney, though free commercial lease agreements do exist online.
The Law Is Complicated by Location
Laws governing renting a place to live are amongst the oldest and most examined in the judicial system. It is beyond the scope of this article to summarize all laws that relate to leasing, but they are many, they are complex to a lay person, and they vary by location. The laws in Bangor, Maine are going to be different than the laws in Fulton, Kentucky, and may even be different even than Portland, Maine. For this reason, a truly one-size-fits-all lease is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to craft. It’s not just that each state can adopt its own laws, so can each county/parish and municipality. For example, the residential leasing laws in my county are completely different than the county just to my North. Many investors own properties in both counties and don’t realize the laws they operate under are different (one is under common law, the other under the URLTA, just for starters).
The Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act
As a landlord/property manager, there are many laws you need to be familiar with (fair housing, local trash and nuisance laws, etc. etc.), but in the big picture of using a free lease agreement, you need to be at least initially aware of whether your location has adopted the Uniform Residential Landlord-Tenant Act. This is a law model that can be adopted by states and localities – or not. You need to be aware of whether your location has adopted it, and if so you want to make sure that your free rental agreement complies with URLTA. In most cases where the URLTA differs from common law it will be a higher requirement (and each state can modify, or only partially adopt URLTA). For example, again in my location, common and statutory law allows a lease to be written with as little as seven days notice for a non-monetary breach (like having a pet that’s not allowed). The URLTA, though, requires a 14-day minimum notice for breaches like the pet. You need to know where you stand legally and have a lease that complies the best you can. There are certain areas of the country (New York City, certainly) whose local laws so exceed even the URLTA that a generic lease is likely just playing with fire.
The Lease Still Needs to Say What You Want
In areas where the law does not specify something, then it’s up to you. For example, if you don’t want your tenants subleasing the unit (and trust me, you don’t want that), then you have to say so in the lease. Don’t blindly trust that something off the internet will cover everything you want. Do you want to allow pets? If so, are there additional pet fees/deposits? Do you want the tenant to take care of the yard? How about how many cars can be parked on the property, who is responsible for trash, what about installing satellite dishes, etc. etc. Even a well-crafted free rental agreement you will still need to customize to your wishes and specifics.
You Still Have to Start Somewhere
I was a complete neophyte when I started investing in residential property; my first lease was a boilerplate job from an office supply store. It was a joke; we could have written something better on the back of a napkin. The next one was from an expensive “get rich” course; you know – where you pay someone like Robert Allen, Carlton Sheets etc. for all kinds of study material on nothing down deals, flipping and the like. Considering it was in an expensive package from someone claiming to be an expert teaching the subject, it fell somewhat short, leaving out several clauses that would have to be in any truly comprehensive lease. It was much better than the first one and did cover many areas adequately enough, though, to serve as a starting point. From there over the years I studied on my own, asked for advice from attorneys when needed and arrived at something I’ve found works well for me (but still evolves). Despite the insufficient leases at the start I did survive – albeit with a few bumps here and there along the way. In many cases the dispute is over a tenant not paying rent, so it’s unlikely they’re going to have the money to hire an attorney to go after deficiencies in your lease, so even a sub-par lease can likely suffice in many cases, and almost has to beat having no lease at all. However, tenants can get crazy on you, hire a lawyer to jump on you etc. and swear they’ll take it to the supreme court. You want to be solid when you get one of those nuts (which you will eventually). We also learn as we go; if you leave out that “no subleasing” clause and it comes back to bite you, you’ll make sure to change that going forward, right? If you understand that a free lease agreement or even a low-cost boilerplate isn’t really a final product, but rather a starting point that you will be working from based on your local laws, your own experiences, and you own preferences, a good one should suffice.
And Here They Are:
Or Click Here to see which free lease agreement we think is the best.
Editor’s note: while the author has many years of experience in property management, is a licensed real estate broker, and has spent many hours wrangling with legal leasing issues acting as attorney pro se, nothing on this site should be considered practicing law or giving legal advice.