Understanding Your Lease

What to Look for in a Lease

The lease should include all of the following:

  • Date of signing.
  • Complete names of landlords and tenants.
  • Location of the rental unit, including apartment identification.
  • Term of the lease, both the date occupancy begins and the termination date.
  • The amount of each rent payment.
  • When and where each rent payment is due.
  • Penalty, if any, for late payment of rent.
  • Circumstances, if any, allowing the rent to be raised.
  • Extra charges, if any, for parking, storage, recreational facilities, and so forth.
  • Utility charges.
  • Who pays for repairs and maintenance, especially if tenant negligence is a factor.
  • Amount of security or damage deposit, if required.
  • Provisions for subletting or assigning.
  • Limit on the total number of occupants, if any.
  • Whether multiple lessees are jointly or separately obligated. Jointly and severally means any one person may be held responsible for the total rent payment. If this is the case, all tenants should sign an agreement among themselves stating that each of them is responsible for his or her share of the rent.
  • Landlord's rights of access to the premises for repairs or to show the premises.
  • Rules regarding guests and pet privileges, including a full description of the types of pets allowed.
  • Special equipment allowed or forbidden, such as musical instruments, waterbeds.
  • Rules setting guidelines for noise or parties and for playing of stereo, television, or musical instruments.
  • Whether the unit is furnished or unfurnished. If furnished, a complete written inventory of all items provided, including the condition of each item at time of occupancy, should be included, and which, if any, items in a furnished unit belong to the current occupant.
  • Provisions and cause for terminating the lease at the end of its term or before the full term, including penalties.
  • Provisions for renewing the lease.
  • Who to contact for repairs or emergencies.

Dangerous Clauses

Beware! Certain lease clauses can cause you significant problems if enforced. You should be extremely wary about signing a lease (or should attempt to renegotiate its terms if a reasonable explanation isn't forthcoming from the landlord) if any of the following or similar provisions appear in the proposed lease:

  • that the premises are acceptable "as they are" (see security deposits).
  • that the landlord is not liable for repairs.
  • that all improvements to premises become the property of the landlord (without being reimbursed by the landlord for those improvements).
  • that no one else will live with you.
  • that you agree to pay possible extra, unspecified rent.
  • that you agree to obey rules not yet written in the lease.
  • that the Landlord has the right to enter the premises at any time.
  • that the premises may be shown to prospective buyers or renters at any time (rather than only during a specified period).
  • that the Landlord (owner) is permitted to cancel the lease if the property is sold.
  • that the Landlord (owner) has the right to repossess the premises at any time.
  • that the Landlord has the right to cancel the lease if "dissatisfied" with your behavior or if your behavior is "immoral".
  • that you will pay any attorney's fees, including the landlord's, if incurred in connection with your tenancy.
  • that you waive your right to a jury trial in the event of a court action arising from your tenancy.
  • that you are forbidden to have overnight guests.
  • that you lose your tenancy if you are gone for any length of time.
  • that you waive your right to sue.

Illegal Provisions

In New York State the following provisions in a lease are illegal and not binding:

  • the Landlord refuses to rent to anyone with children.
  • the lease is terminated if the tenant has a child during the tenancy.
  • the Landlord (lessor) is exempt from liability for personal injury or property damage resulting from the negligence of the landlord (lessor), his agents, servants, or employees in the operation or maintenance of the premises.

The following have also been held as illegal provisions and not binding:

  • prohibiting a tenant from raising a defense in proceeding affecting their tenancy.
  • requiring a tenant to remain single.
  • requiring a tenant to deposit all rents alleged due with the court before asserting a legal defense.
  • limiting the occupancy of a premise to one person.
  • permitting a landlord to confiscate or convert a tenant's personal property if the tenant fails to pay rent.
  • asserting that a landlord can collect attorney fees if the tenant wins a legal action against a tenant.
  • waiving the tenant's right to a premise that is safe and liveable.

If any of these or similarly restrictive provisions appear in a proposed lease, you have several options when asked to sign:

  • Attempt to have the landlord remove the illegal provisions before signing.
  • Ask that your attorney be allowed to review the lease before signing.
  • Sign the lease knowing that a landlord cannot enforce illegal provisions. A landlord's attempt to enforce an illegal provision can be a cause of litigation on your part.
  • Look for another property since these type of provisions often harbinger Landlord attitudes or potential future conduct that will make a tenancy contentious.