Made-To-Order: Rental Leases Done Your Way

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Most landlords sign rental leases that start on the first of the month and last for one year without regard to the time of year, seasonality of prime rental periods, and the landlord’s desired lease term. 

Why follow the cookie-cutter template for your lease when you could customize it to fit your needs?  Take a hint from Chris Rock and write up the lease to meet your needs.

Make sure all the adults moving into the unit include their social security numbers and sign the lease.  In the event you have to evict, it is easier to prove who was living in your unit if every tenant is on the lease.  This also helps deter your tenant from bringing in people like his cousin, “Squatter Steve”, to spend a couple months living in the unit without thinking it is a big deal.

Structure Your Rental Lease So It Fits Your Objectives:

Your Lease Start Date:

Most leases start on the first of the month, but there is no reason why you can’t have your tenant start occupying the vacant unit in the middle of the month.  Often times, I’ll give the partial month of rent free as a sign of good will on the grounds that they pay the first month’s rent and switch the utilities into their name when they move in (they get the free partial month on the back end of the lease).

I like getting tenants moved in as soon as possible because it is a lot less likely that they will move out once the moving truck has already dropped off their stuff.  I have lost tenants in the past who have signed the lease and given the security deposit but for some reason (i.e. roommate arguments, their dog died, they found a different place that had a sauna) decided against moving into the unit.  I am convinced that had they moved in ASAP, they would have stayed for the entire lease term.

Seasonality of Rentals:

I’ve signed seven month leases, eighteen month leases, twenty-two month leases, and even twelve months.  I sign these leases so that when the lease terminates I am in the best possible season to find my next tenant.  Being a mid-west based landlord, prime rental season is May through September, so the last thing I want is a vacancy in January.  However if I am signing a January lease, I will sign the lease so that when it ends, I have the greatest chance of catching one of the many renters in the summer months.  Why would I force myself to enduring the agony of finding a tenant when the windchill is below zero and there is two feet of snow on the ground?  Structure the lease termination date so you can find a new tenant when they are out in full force.

If you are in a college town, sign leases that encapsulate the summer months when most of the campus has gone home.  Even if you have to take lower rent, the additional three to four months for occupancy will make up the difference for a eight or nine month lease.

Lease Term:

Some landlords like short lease terms.  They like raising the rents when the tenant moves out and making improvements to the property.

My ideal tenant is someone who signs a ten year lease, pays on time every month and never complains about the water temperature, burned out lightbulbs or any other non-landlord issue (I can dream , right?).

I like long term tenants so much that I will offer reduced rent if they sign a multi-year lease.  You may be leaving some money on the table by doing this, but with the exception of the tenant moving out early, you will not have to exert time and energy to find a new tenant every year.  For me, the multi-year tenant is worth the reduced rent.

When trying to get the tenants to sign the long-term lease, I explain that I raise rents every year and by signing a multi-year lease, they are locking in a current sub-market rental rate that will only go up in the future.

Get creative with your leasing agreements and both you and your tenants can both walk away “winning”.

Photo: Bjørn Giesenbauer

About Author

Mark Purtell

Mark G+ owns multiple residential rental properties. For over a decade, he has worked a full-time job in an unrelated field, managed rental property with no nightmare tenants, and received rent checks every month without hassle. Mark is the owner of a site dedicated to helping landlords.


  1. Mark, Can you explain how you structure the back-end credit for the partial month? Do you have them start by paying a full month’s rent when they move in mid-month, and then allow them to move out at the end of the month with 1/2 month unpaid?

    Also, when you say encapsulate the rent for summer months in a college town, are you suggesting that you ask the tenants to sign a full-year lease term and charge them less for the summer months, or rent it out to someone just for the summer?

    • Instead of the rent being due on the first of the month, I make the rent due on whatever day the tenant moves in (for example: 13th of the month). The tenant will continue to pay every month on that same day until their lease is up. When you enter the final month, the tenant doesn’t pay for the extra time (the 14th-end of month is free).

      Regarding seasonal rentals, I would push for a 12 month lease for the tenant at a lower rent than a 9 month lease for a higher rent.

      • Hmmm, that is making the assumption that you are renting to students who would be willing to stick around all summer in their rental just because its a good deal. I think that, instead, what would happen is they would sublet the unit, and that ‘s where the trouble starts.

        My experience in renting to students is that, yes, you can find some great ones that are responsible and take good care of your rental, but their first priority is their needs and their schedule,not yours. They are young and still learning the ways of the world, which means you may very well be their first landlord. The lower 12 month rent seems like a flawed approach, leaving you open to a lower return and more problems.

    • If you have a tenant for an extended period of time, you are without vacancies. A ten year lease means you have 120 months of occupancy. Even the best landlord, with one year leases, will experience vacancies, the chance of getting a bad tenant, as well as not getting the rent increase that you were thinking you would be expecting. I understand my dream situation is far from reality in terms of practicality, but I feel that illustrates the point of having a stable, long term tenant even at the cost of rent increases.

  2. Brandon Turner

    I might do a long term lease if I believed my tenants would follow it. As it is – they just leave whenever they want. Any tips for overcoming that?

    And welcome to the Bloggers Club Mark! We are glad to have you and I’m excited for what you have in store for us. I like the videos 🙂

    • I try to cater the lease to terms that the tenant feels he can uphold. I never force a lease term on a tenant that he doesn’t feel comfortable nor one that I don’t think the tenant will honor. It is definitely a situation that is handled on a case by case basis.

      Thanks. I’m looking forward to writing more articles.

  3. I never do more than a year lease. In my state of Wisconsin there are different rules for leases 2 years or more. Off the top.of my head I think the same rules apply from a year to 23 months. I have rented in winter a couple times and did a 4 month lease to get into early summer. Otherwise I do a year lease ending on April 31st at the earliest. I always put in that I offer the tenant first rights of renewal if they are in good standing. I also will usually give them a maximum rental increase. For example, last october I purchased a duplex that needed work. The rental rates where low mainly because the previous owner did the bare minimum on upkeep if that. We put up a garage and new driveway to satisfy city mandates, we also put in energy efficient windows, updated the sewer stack, new bathroom and entry on the upstairs and kitchen in basement. The rent in the lower was $400 and $500 upstairs. I believe the market deems that both could be $600. When we bought, we kept the rent the same until May as we showed them we were serious about updates to give us credibility not just some new guy jacking rents. They have been good allowing us to make improvements and the energy updates have benefited them as well. The lower is now at $500 on a year lease with the next year going up to $525. The upper is at $550.

    This way I have decent control on rents and both the tenants and I have an idea what rents are going to be at long term.

  4. Great article. Thanks for the info, you made it easy to understand. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a Lease Agreement form, I found a blank templates from this site PDFfiller. This site also has some tutorials on how to fill it out and a few related Real Estate forms that you might find useful. Here is a link to Residential Lease Agreement form that I was able to use

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