Hand signing a rental contract.Before you put out an ad for the apartment or home you want to rent, make sure that you have a rental agreement ready for people who show interest. A rental contract is a must-have for anyone wanting to lease property. It offers protection for the rental unit and for you as the owner, and also protects tenants. This contract is a legally binding document, so take care to include everything that you want to the renters to know so that you cannot be held liable if something goes wrong.

The most important information should appear right at the beginning: the move in and out dates, dates when payments are due and when they are late, the fees for late payments, the security deposit amount and what it can be used for, what furniture or appliances are in the apartment or home on the day the renters move in, and information about utilities. Renters need to know what they are expected to pay for and what services are included. For example, if you don’t provide Internet to the property, this will need to be in the contract so that your renters are aware and can make their own arrangements.

Additionally, you should include information about damages done by tenants and how this affects the security deposit. You want to protect the property and your finances, so renters should know that if damage outside of normal wear and tear occurs that they are responsible to fix it, or lose some of their deposit. Also put in grounds for eviction, such as drug use or a certain number of late payments in a row. Make sure this is precise. It will help if legal problems arise.

Information about repairs is good to have as well. Let your renters know what your responsibilities are regarding damage from weather, broken pipes, electrical problems, and the like. Establish early that you expect them to report problems to you so that they can be fixed quickly, and how to work out repairs done by the tenant without notifying you. The way you handle this is your decision. Some landlords state that any repairs paid for by the tenant without notification becomes the tenant’s business; others will accept receipts for repair work and reimburse their renters. It’s up to you, but make sure it’s clear.

Including everything doesn’t mean that you have to write up a 30-page document. Instead, come up with a list of things that you will take responsibility for and what you believe the tenant should handle. As a landlord, you do have certain accountability regarding the property itself, and you need to protect yourself and the property by listing in detail those responsibilities. Have the contract ready at all times, and if you make any adjustments, let current renters know.


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