a)  How different is an oral lease from a written lease? 

Oral lease, as its name suggests is one without a written agreement. A written lease on the other hand, is one where these is a written agreement which specifies the terms of the lease. A written lease is the preferred option because it is easier to enforce unlike an oral lease.

b)   How different is a month-to-month lease from a fixed-term lease? 

A month-to-month lease is one where the tenant pays the rent on a monthly basis and the terms of the lease can be modified after giving a reasonable notice generally 30 days. A fixed-term lease on the other hand is one which cannot be modified or changed without the consent of both parties before the expiry of the lease period. Each has its own advantages. While month-to-month leases can be easily modified, fixed-term leases provide protection to the tenant from sudden changes in the terms of the lease.

c)   What are the most important lease clauses from the point of view of landlords?

From a landlord’s point of view, the most important clause is the rent payments. The lease agreement must have a clause that specifies that the tenant will pay the rent in full and that the payment will be made on time. The agreement must also give the landlord the right to collect a late fee if the rent payment is not made on time. Other than that the agreement must allow the landlord to enforce the terms of the lease.

As a tenant, you must ensure that the lease agreement has a clause that specifically states that the landlord is responsible for maintaining and repairing the premises. Another important clause from the tenant’s point of view is the security deposit clause. The agreement must specify a method of getting back the security deposit once the lease is over or terminated. You may also request for clauses that allow you to repair the premises at your cost and recover it from the landlord or deduct it from your rent payments. If the lease agreement has a clause that allows the tenant to terminate the agreement, it is an added advantage.

d)   How to modify the lease if the landlord or tenant does not agree to it?

The terms of the lease can be changed with mutual consent. The landlord and the tenant can strike out the clause they want to change and write down the new clause in the space available on the agreement. The landlord and the tenant should initial the struck out portion as well as the newly inserted clause. Most preprinted lease agreements provide space for making changes. If there is not space to insert the new clause, it can be written on a new sheet of paper and attached to the lease agreement after the new clause is initialed by both parties.

e)   Are the provisions of the lease regulated by the law?

State laws impose certain restrictions on the clauses that can be incorporated in a lease agreement. If the agreement contains a clause which is prohibited by state law, that clause will not be enforceable. However the other clauses can be enforced as long as they are not prohibited by law. In many states the lease agreement cannot have a clause that states that the tenant is accepting the property in “as is” condition. Similarly many state and local laws do not allow the enforcement of a confession of judgment clause in residential leases. Under this clause, the landlord through his or her lawyer can represent the client in any court without notice or service and can confess to or agree to anything the landlord demands in the lawsuit.

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