Table of Contents
- Download a Lease / Rental Agreement Template (PDF & MS Word)
- What is a Lease Agreement?
- How to Write a Lease Agreement
- Landlord-Tenant Laws by State
- Frequently Asked Questions
1. Download a Lease / Rental Agreement Template (PDF & MS Word)
Sample Rental / Lease Agreement PDF
The sample lease agreement below describes a contract between fake “Landlord” Keith Richards and fake “Tenant” Clara Trueba. She agrees to rent a two bedroom, two bathroom apartment in Los Angeles for $2,000 per month for a fixed term of 12 months.
The Tenant agrees to pay for electricity, gas, water, cable television, and telephone, and the Landlord agrees to pay for trash and sewage. This is a generic example of what provisions a simple lease agreement might contain — and how one should look in its final form.Sample-Lease-Agreement
2. What is a Lease Agreement?
A lease agreement is a written document that officially recognizes a legally binding relationship between two parties — a landlord and a tenant. A landlord agrees to rent all (or a portion of) their property to a tenant for a fee, and the terms of that rental are laid out in the form of a lease agreement.
As a reference, people often call this document by other names:
- Rental Agreement
- Rental Contract
- Lease Form
- Rental Lease Agreement
- Apartment Lease
- Tenancy Agreement
- House Rental Agreement
A standard residential lease agreement will identify the following basic elements:
- Premises: a house, apartment, condo, basement, or attic
- Landlord: the owner of the Premise, aka “Lessor”
- Tenant: the renter who wants to live in the Premises, aka “Lessee”
- Rent: the amount of money paid by the Tenant to the Landlord
- Term: the length of time a Tenant has the right to stay on the Premises
Our How to Write a Lease section lists out each critical detail that should be included in a simple one page lease agreement and multi-page lease.
Lease / Rental Agreement forms may also be used to cover these additional Premises:
- Room Rental
- Mobile Home
- Vacation Rental
- In-law Suite
- Other living spaces
- Rent-to-own options
Here are a few other examples of what a Landlord or Tenant may agree to in a simple lease agreement:
The Landlord promises to:
- Repair and maintain the normal wear and tear of appliances — like the air conditioner or heater
- Respect the Tenant’s privacy and not make any surprise visits or allow anyone else to use the condo (“Quiet Enjoyment”)
- Provide a safe and clean home to the Tenant for the Term of the Lease
- Return the Tenant’s Security Deposit (with interest if required) if the Tenant treats the Premises like their own, and it is still in good condition at the end of the lease term
- Tell the Tenant in advance if they need to enter the Premises to fix something or show someone the property
The Tenant promises to:
- Pay the Landlord on time each month on a specific day
- Pay the utility company directly for light, gas, heating, and water
- Live in the home only with their spouse, children, and maybe even their parents or grandparents (“immediate family”)
- Not have a dog, cat, chinchilla, potbelly pig, or pet goat in the house without first asking the Landlord or paying a small fee (“Pet Policy”)
- Not start an illegal business like a meth lab or human trafficking scheme (only “residential” and “lawful” purposes)
A written agreement clearly spells out the detailed promises between the Landlord and Tenant. It also explains what should happen if they break their promises to each other.
Planning on running a landlord business professionally? Keep in mind that these promises carry the full weight of the law — avoid making these 7 major mistakes that could spell the end of your business.
When Do I Need a Lease Agreement?
When a formal relationship exists between two parties, the law recognizes that both the Landlord and Tenant have a special set of rights and obligations. A lease agreement helps protect both parties as well as the property being rented — be sure you use one every time you wish to occupy an apartment or house for lease.
A residential lease agreement has the added advantage of laying out potential problems that might occur while detailing possible solutions available to the Landlord and Tenant.
In contrast, an oral lease agreement (verbal, spoken, or word of mouth) is difficult to enforce in court, and is unlikely to accurately capture important details over time.
A written version, however, serves as a constant reminder to everyone, including yourself and the court, about what everyone agreed to at the beginning of the relationship.
If you choose not to use a lease agreement form, the consequences can be severe.
Take a look at this chart of preventable issues a generic lease agreement could resolve:
Potential Problems This Document Will Solve
|Lost rent money||Damaged or bad credit|
|Unpaid utility bills||Unable to find a new place|
|HOA fees for nuisance or eye sores||Getting sick because there is no heat|
|Property damage||Penalties for unpermitted use|
|Expensive lawyer fees||Expensive lawyer fees|
|Personal safety & well being||Property damage
|Risk of illegal activities||Personal safety & wellbeing
|Fear of Landlord|
3. How to Write a Lease Agreement
A standard residential lease agreement will generally contain the following:
1. Who is on the hook? (the “Parties”)
A simple rental agreement form needs to name the parties and where they live:
- The Landlord and their current address
- The Tenant and their current address
2. Where? (the “Premises”)
It is common sense for a Texas residential lease agreement to explicitly identify that everyone is talking about the same place — a sleek, modern studio apartment in Dallas or the attic room of a rustic home in a college town like Austin.
Our free rental agreement requires you write down the exact address and type of place — such as an apartment, house, or condo — being rented (the “Premises”).
3. For how long? (the “Term”)
A standard lease agreement should detail exactly when the lease term begins and ends. By listing the date, there is a clear understanding of the duration of the landlord-tenant relationship.
Depending on where you live, a month-to-month rental agreement carries a different set of rights and obligations than a 1-year lease agreement.
What is the difference between fixed-term and month-to-month?
A month-to-month lease means the agreement is for a one month period with no predetermined end date and continues month-to-month until either the landlord or tenant terminates the agreement.
A fixed-term lease means the agreement is set for a predetermined, fixed period of time, and expires at the end of the agreement. The length of time may be 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, etc.
A basic lease agreement of 1 year or more MUST be in writing in order to comply with the Statute of Frauds in most states.
Note: If the Tenant does not renew the Lease, and the Landlord allows the Tenant to continue staying on the Premises after the Lease expires, most states treat this as a month-to-month tenancy.
4. For how much? (the “Rent”)
Asking a tenant to “just pay what you think is fair,” or a generic number written on the back of a napkin is not an option.
Your lease agreement should explicitly list the monthly rental amount. If you are unsure of what the going rate is for a place, check out Zillow. You can also include the terms under which the rent may be subjected to change in the future by using a Notice of Rent Increase.
Another detail outlined in a standard lease agreement is a point about what happens if the rent is late. Will a late payment fee or interest rate apply?
For example, if the monthly rent of $500 is due on the first of the month, what happens if the rent is not paid until the 15th of the month? You can use a Late Rent Notice to ensure rent payment is made.
How much should I charge for rent?
It is at the landlord’s discretion to decide how much to charge for rent, but the cost is usually comparable to other properties within the same area. The monthly rent amount is typically based on the home’s real estate value and can range between 0.8 to 1.1 percent of a home’s value.
- $100,000 home value
- 0.8% to 1.1% of the home value
- $1000 monthly rent = .01 * $100,000 (1% example)
Other basic factors that may affect the rental price includes the neighborhood and the condition of the property. If you are not sure, it is best to check comparable properties in the area.
Please note that there are rent control laws for certain communities in five states:
- District of Columbia (D.C.)
- New Jersey
- New York
Standard rent control laws limit the amount that you are able to charge for rent. To ensure that you have the latest regulations on rent control, check your local rent control ordinance by looking up the local rent control board.
5. What about a Security Deposit?
Landlords have the right to collect a Security Deposit from their Tenants. Security Deposits are usually paid up front at the beginning of the lease.
- The Tenant promises that they will treat the Landlord’s home like their own.
- The Landlord promises that they will return the Security Deposit if the Tenant does not damage the Premises.
For more information about Security Deposits, please read this Wikipedia article.
Each state regulates the maximum amount a Landlord can collect from a Tenant as a security deposit. We recommend you check the requirements specific to your state, which should be findable with a simple Google search.
Furthermore, some states require Landlords to return Security Deposits to their Tenants within a certain amount of time — potentially with interest.
Usually, the Landlord can deduct the following amounts from the security deposit:
- Unpaid rent
- Cleaning costs
- Key replacement costs
- Cost to repair damages to Premises above ordinary wear and tear
- Cost to repair damages to common areas above ordinary wear and tear
- Any other amount legally allowable under the Lease
6. What other details should be included?
Here are some other useful details a written lease agreement might include:
- Access: may the Landlord come over to use the laundry machine?
- Alterations: can the Tenant paint the bedroom, hang a chandelier in the living room, or install a security alarm system?
- Guests: can the Tenant have a short-term guest stay for two weeks?
- Keys: how many copies of the key can be distributed?
- Pets: can the Tenant have a pet if they ask the Landlord?
- Right to Entry: can the Landlord come and make repairs or show the home to a possible future Tenant? Maybe only after giving the Tenant 24-hours advance notice, unless there is an emergency water pipe burst?
- Smoking Policy: can the Tenant smoke inside the Premises?
- Sublet: will the Tenant be allowed to sublet the apartment to someone else without the Landlord’s permission beforehand?
- Note: The subletting period must be for less than the lease term.
- Water Beds: can the Tenant have a waterbed or “liquid-filled furnishing” that uses 10 or more gallons of liquid?
- *Other: can the Tenant start a small garden in the backyard?
Fees & Payments
- Attorney Fees: who should pay the lawyer fees if there is a disagreement?
- Guarantor / Co-Signer: does the Landlord require the Tenant have someone pay rent if the Tenant is unable to do so?
- Insurance Liabilities: should the Tenant purchase renter’s insurance to cover possible theft or damage of their property?
- Late Rent Fee: should the Tenant be responsible for paying a late fee in the event they miss a rent payment?
- Utilities: who should pay and manage the utilities?
- Appliances: will the Landlord provide a refrigerator or dishwasher?
- Furniture: will the Tenant need to use the Landlord’s existing furniture?
- Option to Purchase: can the Tenant buy the house at a later time?
- Parking: where can the Tenant park their bicycle, Segway, car, or RV?
- Asbestos Disclosure: if the apartment was built before 1981, did the Landlord tell the Tenant not to hang pictures on the walls because asbestos exposure increases if the walls and ceilings crumble?
- Fire and Accidents: can the Tenant leave the Premises and end the Rental Contract if a fire, flood, or earthquake destroys the Premises?
- Lead Disclosure: if the house was built before 1978, did the Tenant receive a Lead-Based Paint Disclosure Form or EPA Pamphlet?
- Noise Policy: are there any quiet hours in the apartment building, condominium, or neighborhood?
- Notice: when must the Landlord tell the Tenant to leave?
- Property Maintenance: who is supposed to cut the grass, take out the garbage, or unclog the kitchen and bathroom drains?
- Renewal: is there an option for the Tenant to renew the Lease?
- Rent Increase: how much advance notice must the Landlord give?
- Default: what will happen if the Tenant does not pay rent, or violates a provision of the Rental Lease Agreement (i.e. notice of default, a chance to correct the problem, early termination of the Lease, or eviction proceedings)
- Condemnation: what if the City takes the Premises for a public purpose like building a library (i.e. eminent domain)
- Joint and several liability: if the rental unit is damaged by Tim the Tenant, his roommate Tina the Co-Tenant is also on the hook for the repair costs
- Successors: if Larry sells the home, the buyer becomes the new Landlord
- Assignment: if Larry transfers the right to collect rent to Anna, Anna is the “assign” and the Tenant must pay Anna rent
- Severability: if one part of the Rental Lease Agreement is invalid for any reason, the rest of the Lease is still enforceable (i.e. the bad part of the Lease is “severed” or cut out from the Lease)
7. When are you finally done?
Once you have finished negotiating and discussing the details . . .
Remember to PRINT, SIGN, and SAVE:
Step 1: Print – print TWO copies of the Rental Lease for you and the other party.
Step 2: Sign – BOTH the Tenant and Landlord need to sign AND date the Lease Agreement form
Step 3: Save – File a hard printed copy of the SIGNED document in a safe place AND scan a soft electronic copy in secure cloud storage like Google Drive or Dropbox.
Alternatively, let Legal Templates take care of this for you.
Step 1: Print or PDF – generate a PDF of the document using our easy form builder that you can print or email to the other party for review as you hash out the details.
Step 2: E-Sign & Share – digitally sign your name and allow the other party to sign electronically. E-signatures are validly recognized in most states.
Step 3: Save & Store – we save a digital copy of your signed agreement and store a copy for both parties on our secure server.
Even after it has been signed, remember to do a standard walkthrough of the Premises together. Before the Tenant moves into the Premises, use a rental inspection checklist like the one provided by the University of Santa Cruz (UCSC) to document the current condition of the Premises.
4. Landlord-Tenant Laws by State
Use the following table as a quick resource to find your specific state legislation for landlord leasing and rentals:
Most Common Landlord-Tenant Relationships
A landlord or tenant can actually be an organization or company that owns an entire apartment building, as well as just individual people.
Possible Landlords and Tenants
- An individual
- Homeowners and Renters
- Family members
- Users of a public online search engine
- i.e. PadMapper, Craigslist, Zillow, or AirBnB
- Husband and wife
- Same sex marriage partners
- An organization
- Public housing agency
- Company employer for an employee
- Property managers
- Tenant placement services
- Legally recognized domestic partners
- Boyfriend and girlfriend
5. Frequently Asked Questions
General Lease Agreement Questions
Should the lease start date (effective date) be the same as the move-in date?
The lease start date does not have to be the same as the move-in date. The lease start date is when your tenancy begins, and should be a date prior to the move-in date. Once the Tenant has finalized and signed the lease agreement with the Landlord, then they can move in at anytime starting from the effective date of the lease.
How should a Landlord handle violations of a lease agreement?
In the event the Tenant defaults for any reason other than failing to pay rent (i.e. having a pet if not permitted or breaking any other rule specified in the Agreement), the Landlord may give written notice to the Tenant to terminate the rental agreement form.
Specify the number of days in advance the Landlord will give to the Tenant before terminating the agreement. The notice period can vary by state so we recommend you check your local laws.
What is the difference between lease and rent?
The main difference between lease vs. rent is as follows:
Lease is the written agreement between a landlord and a tenant outlining the duration in which a piece of property will be rented.
Rent refers to the payment — typically a monthly payment — required to use a landlord’s property.
What is the difference between arbitration and mediation?
Arbitration is when an arbitrator — a neutral third party selected by the parties — evaluates the dispute and determines a settlement. The decision is final and binding.
Mediation is when a mediator — a neutral third party selected by the parties — tries to facilitate a compromise and agreement. The decision is nonbinding.
When is rent due?
The rent due date is the date when the Tenant has to hand over the rent due for that month.
Rent is usually due on the 1st of the month, but the Landlord is able to change it to another day.
Both the Landlord and Tenant are free to discuss when the best time to pay rent may be, but the Landlord ultimately has the authority to decide the monthly due date.
How will the rent be paid?
There are many ways to have rent paid, however, accepting cash from your Tenant is not recommended.
The most advisable methods of accepting a rental payment include:
- Personal check
- Cashier’s check
- Money order
These options are more safe and secure than cash since they provide a verifiable paper trail. Additionally, they help reduce the possibility of a non-payment dispute between the Landlord and the Tenant.
Whether your property is being managed by a third-party or yourself, the rental contract must provide the Tenant with a mailing address for paper checks to be delivered, as well as information regarding all acceptable forms of payment.
When should I charge prorated rent?
The Landlord may choose to charge prorated rent for a portion of the first month if the lease begins on a day other than the day the rent is due.
For instance, the Tenant moves in on March 18 but the Landlord wants the rent to be due on the 1st of the month. The Landlord would charge prorated rent for March 18th to March 31st and the regular monthly rent is due thereafter on April 1, May 1, and so on.
If monthly rent is $500 and due on the 1st of the month, see the following based on different move-in dates:
- April 1: $500 full rent
- April 15: $250 prorated rent
- April 19: $316.67 prorated rent ($500 / 30 days = $16.67 per day * 19 days = $316.67)
The prorated rent amount should be explicitly detailed in a residential lease agreement.
What is the grace period for late rent payments?
The grace period is a short period of time (typically 3-5 days) after the rent due date. During this time, the Tenant can still pay the rent without being charged a late fee. As long as the Tenant pays the rent before the end of the grace period, then a late fee will not be charged.
Some states regulate the length of the grace period. In other words, the Landlord must not charge a late fee for late rent for a certain number of days. Follow these guidelines if you aren’t sure what to do when the rent is late.
How much is the late fee?
Generally, most states do not put a limit on the late fee amount, although some do. Be sure to check the regulations for your specific state or locality to get a clear picture. However, the amount charged must be reasonable, or else it can likely be brought to court.
See below for examples:
- Reasonable Grace Period: 3-5 days
- One-Time Fee: 3-5% of rent amount
- (Optional) Daily Late Fee: $20 per day starting on 2nd late day
Example: Tenant with $500 monthly rent due Jan. 1, with a 5-day grace period:
- If within Jan 1-5: Tenant pays $500
Rent with a one-time late free:
- Jan 6: Tenant pays $525
($500 rent + 5% one-time late fee of $25 = $525)
Rent with both a one-time late fee and daily late fee starting on the second late day:
- Jan 7: Tenant pays $545
($500 rent + $25 late fee + $20 daily fee = $45)
What is a guarantor (or co-signer)?
A guarantor agrees to pay the rent and other charges on behalf of the Tenant, if and when the Tenant is unable to do so. The guarantor will jointly sign the lease agreement with the Tenant, and may also be referred to as a co-signer of the lease agreement.
The guarantor is commonly:
- A parent
- Close friend or relative
Should I require the tenant to have a guarantor?
Usually, if the Tenant does not have a lot of credit history or is particularly young (such as a college student), then the Landlord will require a co-signer or guarantor.
Requiring a co-signer for the Tenant is mainly for the Landlord’s protection if the Tenant defaults on the lease, in which case, the cosigner is responsible for paying the amount due to the Landlord.
A guarantor is usually someone in good financial standing or has excellent credit. Use a Lease Application in order to require any prospective tenants to undergo a background, credit, and proof of income check before allowing them to sign a lease agreement.
Where can I learn more about failure to pay rent?
In the event the Tenant defaults by failing to pay rent, the Landlord may give written notice to the Tenant to terminate the agreement. The Landlord must give the Tenant adequate warning — in writing — a certain number of days before terminating the agreement. The notice period can vary by state, so we recommend you check your local laws.
Read these guidelines if you aren’t sure what to do when a Tenant is late paying the rent.
Security Deposit Questions
When can the landlord use the security deposit?
The Landlord may use the security deposit in certain circumstances specified in the lease agreement, such as in the event the premises are found to be damaged under the Tenant’s care. Landlords commonly charge an amount equal to one month of rent — subject to state laws.
When does the landlord return the security deposit to the tenant?
After the Tenant’s lease ends, the Landlord must return the security deposit to the Tenant within a certain number of days. Check the relevant laws in your state to learn the precise time frame a Landlord has to return the deposit to the Tenant.
Where can I learn more about security deposit regulations?
Security deposit rules are regulated by state and local law. It is strongly recommended that you check the relevant laws in your state to make sure these security deposit provisions meet those requirements. For example, some states require interest to be paid on the security deposit.
Who should be responsible for which utilities?
Normally the Tenant pays for all utilities, but in many cases the Landlord will pay for trash, and sometimes even water. However, you can specify which utilities (electricity, gas, telephone, television, water, trash, sewage, or any custom expense you wish to enter) must be paid by the Tenant, and which ones are paid by the Landlord.
Generally speaking, if the property has an individual meter to track the gas, water, and/or electricity usage of the Tenant, the Tenant will pay for his or her own utilities usage.
If there is no meter and utilities are shared, the Landlord should disclose this in the lease agreement form.
What happens if my property was built prior to 1978?
If the housing was built prior to 1978, the lease / rental agreement form will need to contain a disclosure page on lead-based paint and/or lead-based paint hazards.
There is a federally-approved, printable disclosure form (“Disclosure of Information on Lead-Based Paint and/or Lead Based Paint Hazards”) and simple information pamphlet (“Protect Your Family From Lead In Your Home”) that you can download.
What additional information about the property should I include?
If your property requires an additional description or provisions on what is included or excluded from the lease, then it is best to include it — along with any restrictions regarding its use.
Examples of additional information might include:
- The use of the roof, a swimming pool, or some other shared common area in the building
- Neighborhood quiet hours or guidelines
- The presence of a Homeowner’s Association (HOA)
- Required maintenance of the property, such as lawncare or exterior upkeep
What additional provisions should I include?
Some states have mandatory provisions, such as disclosing the presence of asbestos or mold. Check your state and/or local laws, and include all necessary disclosures about the leased property.
It is part of the Landlord’s responsibility to provide livable premises for his or her Tenants. This includes the obligation to disclose if there is any aspect of the leased property that can cause injury, or harm the Tenant’s use of the property as a home.
Should I include a disclosure about asbestos or mold?
Asbestos was a common insulation material for houses built prior to 1975, and is a federally-recognized health hazard.
If you’re unsure of the maintenance and liability regarding mold in the rental property, be sure to detail it in the lease agreement, and enforce the responsibilities of property cleanliness.
Can I include more than one tenant on the lease agreement?
Yes, if the Tenants are living on the same Premises during the same time period and subject to the same terms of the Lease. This is referred to as “joint and several liability”.
Joint and several liability means that all the Tenants are responsible, both individually and/or collectively, for any property damage caused during the Lease.
What should be included in the pet policy?
The pet policy should clearly outline:
- the type of pets that are allowed (if any)
- how many of each type
- the expected care and cleanliness to be maintained
You can also specify any rules regarding the pet and whether you retain the right to change the pet agreement — as long as you give proper notice (typically 30 days).
What should be included in the visitor policy?
The residential visitor policy should specify if guests are allowed and under what conditions.
For example, you may include:
- the maximum length of time a guest can stay
- whether or not giving notice to roommates is required
- and/or any rules and regulations that the visitor must follow during their stay
Learn more about right of entry regulations
Right of entry rules are regulated by state and local law. By default a Rental Lease Agreement includes the Landlord’s right to enter the property at reasonable times to inspect the property, make improvements or repairs, as well as enter in times of emergency.
As the Landlord, it is a good idea to give reasonable notice to your Tenant before entering the property.
For example, in the event of a pipe leaking, you may enter the property, but it is wise to give notice to the Tenant.