Q: What is the Most Important Document in Landlord/Tenant Court?
A: The Lease Agreement
When you decide to do a little real estate investing, you will most often find yourself amongst those known as landlords. Taking on this designation will allow you to play many roles. You may be the rent collector and the maintenance person. Most of the tasks you perform will be very important to your success in real estate investing. However, one of the most important things you can do for yourself is to use a complete and thorough lease agreement including any other required documents.
Most states do not require the lease agreement to be in writing. It can be an implied lease or oral lease, depending upon the state you live in. However, regardless of what the state requires for a lease agreement to be valid, landlords should have a written lease agreement signed and dated by both the landlord and tenant to make certain all rights and responsibilities are agreed upon.
The lease or rental agreement should include all the details of who is responsible for maintaining the property. Here are some important items that should be included in the lease; whether the tenant or landlord is responsible for checking smoke detectors, mowing the lawn, shoveling the snow, and whether or not the tenant is required to obtain renters insurance. By outlining each of these items in detail, should the landlord or tenant end up in court, the lease will be a legal document and proof to who was designated as the responsible party.
When renting a property built before 1978 the government (EPA) requires the landlord to supply the tenant a copy of a Lead-based Paint Pamphlet, which outlines the potential hazard of lead-based paint, and a disclosure stating whether or not the rental unit they are occupying has or may have lead-based paint in it. This document must be signed by the landlord and tenant and will protect both parties if the legal need arises.
The most important document a landlord can ever give to a tenant is the lease agreement and the more detailed the lease is, the better protection it will provide. Detailing the payment system for rents, late fees, and other pertinent information will only provide more protection for both the landlords and tenants.