In the late 1920s, President Coolidge invited some friends to dine with him at the White House.
Not wanting to make fools of themselves and unsure of the proper etiquette for dining in such a setting, the friends decided to simply copy exactly what the President did at the table. The meal was served and the President took a bite, as did his friends. The President then took a drink, as did his friends. Then, the President poured some milk into a saucer, followed by some sugar. The friends did likewise with their own saucer. Then the President picked up the saucer, leaned over, and placed it on the floor… for the cat. (Source: The Speaker’s Quote Book)
As the President’s friends in the above story illustrate, sometimes imitation can be helpful in an unknown setting, but oftentimes it can make the imitator look like a fool! This is the case when a person simply copies another lease they picked up to use for their investments. Perhaps you’ll be fine, but should the case arise where you need to use the lease for a big legal situation, the wrong lease could also cost you a lot of money.
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Why the RIGHT Lease Matters
A common mistake made by many new landlords is to go online and simply Google “Free Rental Lease” and see what comes up. Typically, they’ll print off whatever pops up and try to use it for their rental.
The problem with this, of course, should be obvious: you have no idea if that lease you found is legal and valid. A lease drawn up by a lawyer in one state might be totally different than a lease drawn up in another. Every state, and even many cities, have specific laws that govern what is and is not legal in a rental agreement. Plus, the laws change all the time, so a lease that worked last year might not work this year.
Sure, if you never have a problem with your tenant, that lease you found on Google might be fine, but we don’t use lease agreements to prepare for the good times, we use lease agreements to prepare for the bad!
What happens when you try to evict your tenant and you realize the lease has a provision that is not allowed in your state that delays or messes up the eviction process? What if your tenant tries to sue you because something in that lease was not legal in your state or city? These are real possibilities if you are using a boilerplate lease.
So where should you look for a good, legal rental lease agreement? Here are a few places…
How to Find a Lease Agreement
The following are 3 places you can find a lease agreement.
The first, most practical answer would be to ask an attorney in your city to draft up a lease. An attorney’s job is to know the law, so if you want to ensure your lease is compliant with all current landlord-tenant laws, this would be a good place to start. Most lawyers who work with landlords on a regular basis will have a lease agreement already written up that they can likely give you (for a charge, of course).
You could also bring in a lease of your own (something you found online or through a friend) and have them review it, though check with them on the cost of this versus just purchasing a lease directly from them.
2.) Online Legal Websites
If you don’t want to spend several hundred dollars on a lease from your attorney, you can also purchase state-specific legal forms from numerous websites online. This would include EZLandlordForms.com, USLegalForms.com, or RocketLawyer.com. You could also pick up a copy of a lease agreement at many office supply stores, such as Staples.
3.) Property Management Software
Finally, if you are using property management software to manage your property, they may have state-specific lease agreements built into the software. For example, AppFolio offers updated, state-specific digital leases within their software.
When it comes to finding a great lease agreement for your property, don’t be a copycat. Don’t mess around. Spend the time and/or money upfront to make sure you get a rock-solid lease agreement that will hold up no matter what your landlording experience throws at you.
Where did you find your rental lease agreement?
Let us know with a comment!