One of the first things you'll need to do as a landlord, before you even rent out a space, is draw up a lease that you plan to have your tenants sign. This lease is meant to lay out the agreement between you and your tenants, and it should include things like the start date, end date, amount of the security deposit, who is responsible for various utilities, and so forth. This may sound simple at first, but a lot can go wrong if your lease doesn't include the right provisions or if it includes something that it shouldn't include. For this reason, it's a good idea to have a real estate lawyer look over your lease before you have any tenants sign it.
Here are some more specific reasons why you should always have a real estate attorney review your lease.
1. To make sure it doesn't call for anything illegal.
Of course you would never intentionally include any illegal provisions in your lease, but housing laws are confusing, and it's really common for landlords to accidentally violate them without even realizing it. In some areas, for example, you are not allowed to ask for more than one month's rent as a security deposit. In other areas, you may be required to pay for the building's heating bill if there is more than a certain number of units in the rental.
If you were to include any illegal provisions in your lease, a judge could later throw out all conditions on the lease if the tenant were to challenge it. A real estate attorney can make sure each item in your list adheres to local, state, and federal housing requirements so you don't find yourself in hot water later on.
2. To make sure there are no loopholes.
Some tenants are experts at finding loopholes in leases. For instance, if your lease says "no pets in the building," the tenant might adopt chickens to keep in the backyard. They might reason that the lease doesn't say they can't have pets outside — and technically, they are right. A real estate attorney will be familiar with the types of loopholes commonly seen in leases. They can change around any wording that's unclear or ambiguous to ensure you don't end up in a situation like this.
3. To make sure all required terms are there.
In some locales, landlords are required to include specific terms or statements in a lease. For example, some towns require the lease to specify how long guests can stay without being added to a lease. Other towns may require that you state where the tenant can and cannot park. Since these requirements vary by town, they can be hard to keep up with. But a real estate lawyer will be more aware of them and can ensure you have not missed any required terms.
4. You'll have a lawyer to go back to if anyone questions the lease.
Say a prospective tenant looks over the lease, and they don't agree with some of the terms. They may even tell you that, in their opinion, certain lease terms are not legal. This can be a tough spot to be in if you have not had a lawyer look over your lease. You won't have any way of knowing if the tenant is right or if you are. When your lease has been reviewed by a lawyer, though, you have more confidence that you're correct. And you can go back to this lawyer for additional clarification, if needed.
Writing a great lease agreement is not easy. But with a real estate attorney in your corner, you can tackle this part of being a landlord with great success.