10 Tips for Valiantly Executing & Enforcing Your Battle-Ready Lease

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[Note: I am not a lawyer or offering any legal advice. I am simply a battle hardened landlord providing her thoughts on lessons learned the hard way. Every area is different so it is important check you local and state laws. Good luck on your landlording adventure!]

You read my article about creating a battle-ready lease. You sat down and thought of your addendums and what you wanted to put in your lease. You might even be one of the commenters who has a lease longer than my 16-page lease with more than 37 addendums. Unfortunately, that is not all there is to making yourself battle-ready. Just having a fantastic lease does not mean you are safe.

Your lease is your battle gear. You can have the best battle gear, but with no tactics or execution, you are SOL. I have learned the hard way that just having a great lease is not enough to protect you in the real estate world. Without the execution, even the best lease will fail you. Over the years, I have learned that perfecting my lease only saves me the ulcer-inducing moments if the execution is successful.

So here is the other half. This is the part that will allow you to put that awesome gear, a.k.a. your lease, to use. This is what I have learned the hard way through missteps and lack of emphasis on execution.

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10 Tips for Valiantly Executing & Enforcing Your Battle-Ready Lease

Have everyone initial at the end of every page.

I have everyone initial at the bottom of every page. This prevents pages to be split in the contract or removed. It also validates that every page has always been in the lease.

Initial below every important addendum.

I have all my tenants initial below every addendum after I explain it. Therefore, there is never any question of “I didn’t know” or “We didn’t review it” or my favorite, “I didn’t understand.”

Leave it blank and fill it out together.

I leave the lease blank, and we fill it out together. This prevents me from making a mistake and not filling in the information correctly (done that) or leaving things from a previous house. I also love the fact that since I have a master blank agreement for each area, I can keep updating it and then just hit print. There’s no need to spend time removing old details or trying to remember what was updated and what wasn’t.

Related: 5 Legitimate Reasons to Allow a Tenant to Break Their Lease

Make sure it was filled out correctly.

I have almost been burned because I didn’t scrutinize the lease until after it was filled out before I signed. So always review it again before you sign to make sure you did not miss anything. The last thing you want when you need an addendum to solve a problem is for its validity to come into question. Been there done that, and that made a simple process a lot longer and harder.

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Initial under every addendum.

I have my tenants intitial under every addendum after we review it. This not only helps to ensure we cover the addendum, but it also brings out the addendum’s importance to the tenant. This also helps when there are issues, as we can refer back to not only the addendum but also their signature.

Spend 30 minutes to an hour reviewing the lease.

I review the entire lease with my tenants. I go over every addendum and answer any questions. While I typically don’t negotiate, this is the time that I will negotiate or alter the lease if there are any questions. For example, “My mother is going to come to visit for two weeks. Is that going to be okay, because you have a 10 day rule?” The last thing I want is a lease that my tenants won’t follow, as it defeats the purpose of my lease. Therefore, I work really hard to make sure everything is doable because I do hold my tenants’ feet to the fire. If I do not think I will enforce it, then I try really hard to make sure it is not in the lease.

Cover every possible scenario.

I have found the hard way that I have to cover every possible situation. I have realized that more often than not, the issue surrounds something not being covered rather than a loophole in the wording. In my experience, if it is not in the lease, it is not enforceable unless it’s in federal or state law. I know this seems petty, but nothing is an issue until it is an issue.

When your tenant gleefully tells you that they will leave you house vacant because they don’t want to pay the break lease clause but don’t want to live there and they can’t sublease it and you’re SOL with an empty house, it’s a pain. This is especially true when you are worried about burglary, your insurance premium going up because of vacancy, etc. So although I thought it was implied that it was personal property, I now have an abandonment clause.

Remember, you can’t change your mind.

Never say “yes” or commit yourself to something that you cannot follow through on. Once you have said “yes” or made a change for a tenant, you cannot retract it. I have learned very quickly that it might feel good to perform good deeds — let them move in early or upgrade an item — but at the end of the day, I cannot put myself in financial peril by letting myself get walked all over. Therefore, I have learned to say “no” before “yes,” and if I’m uncomfortable with a certain situation, I always err on the side of “no.” You cannot undo a “yes,” so as much as I hate it, “no” is my knee jerk reaction.

Related: 3 Common Mistakes Landlords Make During Lease Signing & Move-In

Never call a tenant “perfect” until they move out.

I always laugh when I hear other landlords advise not to do something because you don’t want to lose perfect tenant. I have learned the hard way that there is no such thing as a perfect tenant until they have moved out. My “perfect” tenants ruined my carpet because they never cleaned, which resulted in black spots all throughout the carpet. Because they were “perfect,” my friend who was doing the walk through did less than a pass. My “perfect” tenants had no issue trying to claim SCRA falsely to get out of the lease early when they decided to buy a house.

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Don’t negotiate after the lease is signed.

I don’t negotiate after the lease is signed. My lease very specifically says it’s “as is.” While I will repair anything, I will not upgrade it. I cannot tell you how many times people have thought they can strong arm me into a better deal. The truth is I hold my tenants’ feet to the fire, just as they hold me, the landlord, to my side of the deal.

Execution for me will always be a work in progress. Once a year I break my own advice. I take pity or want to be kind and stop treating it like a business. Every time it burns me. I can tell you the most painful experiences were the executions where I did not treat it like a business and didn’t hold my tenants’ feet to the fire. Over the years I have found that the more black and white I stay, the easier landlording has become.

What is your experience? Anything you’d add to this list?

Let me know with a comment!

About Author

Elizabeth Colegrove

Elizabeth Colegrove is a passionate "buy and hold" investor who specializes in turning her once-negative transient lifestyle (Military) into a positive lifestyle. She self manages her entire real estate portfolio from long distance while holding down a full time job. When she isn't finding new real estate deals, she enjoys traveling, hanging out with her awesome boat-building husband, playing with her mischievous kitty, or writing on her newest project, her blog.

7 Comments

  1. Jerry W.

    Elizabeth, thanks for the article. I should get a copy of your lease. I have been using the same one for about 25 years so I should go through it. I have been lucky and only gone to court over it once. I suspect I live in a nicer area though. I am breaking my own rule currently as I rented to a fellow volunteer fireman who I know all of his 4 kids by name. Due to the local oil economy crash he is making about half of his previous salary and is getting behind on rent. I know I am putting off the inevitable but I will probably let him coast until spring, as long as he is paying most of it. Hard times lead to hard situations. To make matters worse it is a property I lose a $100 on each month so I will be pulling money out of my pocket to keep the payments going.(This was my first no money down deal)

    • Elizabeth Colegrove

      Jerry,

      I too operate in great areas. My tenant issues tend to be more towards excessive nit picking repairs or breaking the lease because they realized they could save money buying. My lease with 38 addendum’s have saved my tush because I don’t have to be the bad person I just refer back to the lease. Here is the lease language that I use for my addendum’s. (http://www.reluctantlandlord.net/everything-lease-addendum-landlords/).

      Good Luck! Look forward to seeing you around.

      Elizabeth

      • Elizabeth Colegrove

        Anna,

        I did not have an abandonment clause in my lease at all. Silly me, though that the break lease, no assignment and assumption, roommates, subleasing covered me on those aspects. Now I specifically state that if you vacate the property the Break Lease is enforceable. It semantics but unfortunately I have learned the hard way over the years, that semantics is what will make the difference between black and white and “lets talk about it.

        Here is my new lease language that I wrote (so not a lawyer just what I came up with as a experienced aka jaded landlord.

        Abandonment Clause
        This home is rented as the primary residence for the Renters and Occupants listed in the beginning of the lease (no one else). If the house is left empty for more than 10 days the buy out clause is automatically applied unless the applicants can prove that they are going on vacation and will be returning to permanently reoccupy the home. The house is not allowed to be left unattended more than 10 without the tenants having a house sitter (at their expense) checking on the house daily.

        Elizabeth

  2. Anna Watkins

    I feel pretty good, as I think my lease covers all these points (I also have each page numbered (# of 5 – easy in a MS Word footer) so no pages can go “missing.”

    I’m curious about the “abandonment’ clause you mentioned — how did the lease read before that didn’t cover your issue, and how does it read now?

  3. Ray Arends

    Thank you for a well written and timely post. You have eliminated my fears of excessive addendums. It’s important to cover all possibilities and discuss them BEFORE they happen. Rent a country place with acreage and the addendums seem endless!

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