Leases - General Information
Authored By: Colorado Legal Services
Frequently Asked Questions about Leases
What is a lease? +
A lease is a contract between a property owner (the Landlord) and a person who wants to occupy the property (the Tenant). In many leases, the Landlord is referred to as the “Lessor” and the Tenant is called the “Lessee”.
A lease should be in writing, but unwritten (oral) leases are valid. The lease (and frequently other documents such as the property rules and regulations) define the terms and conditions under which the Landlord agrees to allow the Tenant to occupy the property.
A lease should protect both the Landlord and the Tenant. Most written leases last either six months or one year, but they can provide for a longer or shorter term. The lease should state the date on which it starts and the date it ends. If it does not, the lease starts on the due date for the rent and ends on the next due date for rent. Most leases, especially unwritten leases, require a monthly payment of rent. If so, the lease is probably a month-to-month lease .
Most problems can be avoided if both parties know and understand the terms of the lease. The Landlord should explain these terms so you as the Tenant clearly understand them. Many leases refer to the Landlord’s “Rules” or “Regulations” (such as rules prohibiting pets, smoking or the use of marijuana on the property) which may be contained in a separate document. You should review the separate rules and regulations because they become part of the lease. If you do not agree with parts of the lease or feel uncomfortable with a portion of the lease, you should negotiate with the Landlord. For example, if you do not get your paycheck or monthly benefit check until the 3rd day of the month, ask the Landlord to change your payment date for the rent from the 1st to the 4th or 5th of the month.
Likewise, if you require a service animal, it is important that you note on the lease that you are permitted to have the service animal, even if the property is a “no pet” property. If the landlord and you agree to change a portion of the lease or the rules and regulations, BOTH you and the Landlord should initial the change on the written lease, make note of the agreement in the “Additional Provisions” portion of the lease, or sign a separate document to be attached to the lease.
To avoid disputes, the lease should state who is responsible for the following:
- utilities (including but not limited to gas, electricity, water and sewage)
- any repairs to appliances, plumbing, heating, etc.
- yard care, including trash and snow removal
If the property consists of more than one rental unit, the lease should provide for who pays the expenses of the “common” areas and if the Tenant is responsible for a portion, how the amount of those charges will be determined.
If the Landlord and the Tenant agree that the Tenant will do any work or furnish materials connected with work benefiting the premises, make sure that agreement is in writing and states a starting date and a time for completion. Also, if an agreement has been made, the exact amount of rent reduction due to the Tenant for cost of repairs (including supplies, the Tenant's time and anything that is agreed upon) should be in writing and signed by both parties at the beginning of the lease. If the Tenant’s rent reduction is to be determined on a “time and materials” basis, the agreement should provide, at the least, the method that will be used (such as the hourly rate of pay) to decide the amount to be credited to the Tenant. It is less confusing for everyone, however, if the agreement for the tenant to perform work is kept separate from the lease, so that the tenant is entitled to be paid for the tenant’s work and materials and the Landlord is entitled to be paid rent.
The lease should contain a fixed due date for rent. If there is a grace period and/or a late penalty, it should be specified in the lease. Even if there is a grace period provided, the rent is still due on the “Due Date” but late payment penalties will not be assessed until the end of the grace period. Any late payment penalty must be reasonable but there is no firm rule as to what is a reasonable late payment penalty.
What to watch out for in a lease. +
All clauses in a lease are subject to negotiation before the lease is signed. However, both the Tenant and Landlord need to agree to the changes in order for those changes to be effective. If you do not feel comfortable signing a lease with a particular lease provision you should negotiate with your Landlord and try to get that clause changed or taken out of the lease. Always make sure that any changes are in writing and initialed by you and the Landlord.
The Colorado State University (CSU) Cooperative Extension flagged clauses to look for when signing a lease and it has suggested how to make those clauses fair to the Tenant and Landlord. Some examples include the following:
1."Tenant accepts the premises 'as is'." This clause can cause problems because if a defect existed at the time you signed the lease, even if you were not aware of it, getting the Landlord to fix it during your occupancy may be difficult.
2. "Tenants acknowledge that the premises are in good order and repair at this time." If you do not list small defects or problems that your rental unit had when you moved in, you may be charged for problems that you did not cause when you move out. Rewrite the clause to read, "Premises are in good order and repair EXCEPT the items listed below or on the attached document." You should make a list of problems or defects on the lease itself or attach the list to both your copy as well as that which the landlord will keep. Again, it would be best if both you and the Landlord sign and date the list of problems with the rental property.
3. "The Tenant agrees to keep improvements upon said premises in good repair at the expense of the Lessee (the renter)." You should rewrite that sentence to read "Landlord will be responsible for necessary repairs to the sewerage, wiring, plumbing and appliances, unless such damages is caused by the negligence of the Lessee (the renter)." Another alternative is to change the provision to say that the Tenant will pay up to a specified amount of money for the repairs, after which the Landlord will pay the balance of the cost of repairs.
4. "The Landlord is not responsible for injury to the Tenant or the Tenant's property." Add the words, "unless such damage was caused by the negligence of the Landlord." Be aware that this clause means that if your furniture or other property is damaged by fire, flood or other causes that were not the result of the Landlord’s negligence, the Landlord and the Landlord’s insurance company will not pay you for the damaged items. Unless you have Renters Insurance, you will get no payment for your damaged property.
5. "Tenant agrees to comply with all printed regulations now made or subsequently furnished." Cross out the words 'subsequently furnished.'
6. "Landlord reserves the right to enter the premises under reasonable conditions for the purposes of official business." Make sure you and the Landlord agree what 'official business' and 'reasonable conditions' are, and include those definitions in the original signed lease. Add "with advance notice to, and consent by, the Tenant, except in case of an emergency."
Go to the CSU Extension website and scroll to the topic "Renting" under the "Housing" section for more information.
What is a month-to-month tenancy? +
If you do not have a written lease and pay your rent monthly, you are most likely a month-to-month Tenant. Alternately, if you have stayed, with the approval of your Landlord or Manager, after your six- or twelve-month lease has expired and pay your rent monthly, then you are probably a month-to-month Tenant.
However, to make sure you should review your expired lease for any provisions that may talk about what happens if a Tenant “Holds Over” after the end of the lease. Some leases provide that if the Tenant remains on the property after the expiration of the lease, the Tenant becomes a “Tenant at Will”. Other leases say that if the Tenant holds over, the tenancy is automatically renewed for the same length of time as the original lease.
A month-to-month tenancy is also called a periodic tenancy. Your month-to-month lease is automatically renewed at the end of each month unless proper notice is given by you or the Landlord to terminate the tenancy.
If you would like to end your month-to-month lease, you will need to review your expired (old) lease to determine what type of notice is needed for you to terminate it. Most leases require a notice of 30 days or longer in order to terminate them, even if they are month-to-month leases. If you never had a written lease, or if your original written lease does not say otherwise then you will need to give your Landlord/Manager a written notice to vacate 7 days before next month's rent is due. If you do not provide proper notice your lease is automatically renewed for another month until a proper notice to vacate is given to your landlord.
The law requires that the notice be given at least 7 days before the existing lease term expires. This DOES NOT mean that you are released from the lease before the end of the lease term. If your rent is due on the 30th day of the month, a notice given on or before the 22nd will end the lease as of the 30th, but a notice given on or after the 23rd will not release you from the lease until the 30th day of the following month. Likewise, if your Landlord gives you a notice on the 15th day of the month telling you that your lease is terminated as of the 23rd, your Landlord is wrong. A notice given on or before the 22nd will not be effective until the 30th and a notice given on or after the 23rd will not be effective until the 30th of the following month.
The Landlord has the right to raise your rent at the end of each month with as little as 7 days’ notice. The Landlord is allowed to do this is because each month is essentially a new one-month tenancy. Accordingly, a court may find that the Tenant has consented to a rent increase if the Tenant has been notified of the increase and remains in the rental unit.
The Landlord has the right to evict you at the end of any month if the Landlord has given you notice that you are to move at least 21 days before the end of the month. .
If you are a month-to-month tenant, the law is not clear as to the proper method to take if the Landlord wants to raise your rent. If a Tenant was originally residing under a written lease and stayed on after the lease expired, the Tenant should look closely at the expired (old) lease to see if it talks about rent orrent increases after the expiration of the lease. Many leases provide that if the Tenant holds over after the expiration of the lease, the rent will automatically increase by some amount or by a percentage of the previous rent. If it does not address this issue or if you do not have a written lease, most Colorado courts will find that if you received written notice of the rent increase at least 7 days before the new month and you stayed in the rental premises, you will have to pay the increased rent. (NOTE - as of April 24 there is CO legislation being discussed to change this number to 21 days - stay tuned.)
When is the Landlord allowed to raise my rent? Also, how often, and what if I don't agree with the increase? +
Because rent is a term of a lease, it generally cannot be changed during the life of the lease without consent by both parties. However, the Landlord can raise the rent at the end of the lease by giving a written notice to the Tenant that the Tenant must either sign a new lease (with an increase in rent) or vacate the property at the end of the lease term. If the Tenant remains on the property after receiving that notice, the Tenant has probably become a month-to-month tenant who is obligated to pay the increased rent. There may be a lease provision, that allows for an automatic rent increase after the lease has expired. Once the lease has expired, or if there is no written lease, the Landlord may be able to raise the rent any time after the end of the lease by giving a written notice at least 7 days before the next payment is due.
Note: The Landlord cannot raise your rent during the period of the lease unless you agree to a rent increase.
How often can the Landlord raise my rent?
Unless your lease provides otherwise, your Landlord can raise your rent whenever your lease term has expired. (For month-to-month tenancies, that can mean each and every month). There is no legal limit on the amount of a rent increase that is allowed
Review the terms of your lease. The agreed upon rent cannot be changed during the life of the lease without a mutual agreement between you and your Landlord. However, you may have unknowingly agreed to a mid-term rent increase under some circumstances. Some leases provide, for example, that if the Landlord’s property taxes or utility bills increase by a large amount, that increase can be passed on to the Tenant as additional rent.
What if I don't agree with the rent increase?
If the term of your lease is ending and your Landlord has given you a proper notice of rent increase, you can either agree to pay the increased rent and continue living there, or you can move out at the expiration of the lease. You can also put in writing to the Landlord that you do not consent to or agree with the rent increase. In that instance, a Landlord may be able to evict you if you do not move at the expiration of your tenancy, but may not be able to recover the increased rental amount.
I've agreed to a Lease - what do I do now, and what should I do when I move in? +
1) Be sure to read the lease very carefully and get a copy of the lease signed by the Landlord when both of you have signed. Make sure that the lease contains all changes and side agreements you have made with the Landlord. If you ever have to show a court that the changes or side agreements actually existed, your only evidence will be the actual signed Lease and attachments.
2) Make sure you get a copy of what rules your Landlord may have, especially if you are living in an apartment complex. These community policies or rules may be in a separate document than the lease. For example, a rule might be that no pets are allowed. Make sure you have read these rules before you sign the lease.
3) Make sure that you understand your financial obligations (what you will have to pay for). Do you pay utilities? If so, you should call the utility company to find out how much utilities are so you can put that cost into your budget. Are you responsible for water, sewer, trash or other charges? Are the provisions in the lease for late fees reasonable?
4) Always get promises made by the Landlord or Manager in writing. If the Landlord or Manager promises to clean or make repairs before you move in and/or at any time during your lease or if the landlord tells you that he will not hold you to a provision of the lease, get that in writing.
5) Keep your copies of all documents in a safe place where you can get them even if you cannot get into your home or apartment. If you have access to a computer, it would be wise to scan the documents and save them on a flash drive or in the “cloud”.
What should I do while I am living in the property? +
Pay rent in full and on time and always get a receipt. Keep the receipt for your records. If you find at some point that you will be late or short in paying your rent, contact your Landlord and discuss the problem. The Landlord may agree to allow a late or short payment without charging late payment penalties or starting an eviction if the Landlord believes you are making a good faith effort to comply with the lease. If you make an agreement, ask the Landlord to put that agreement in writing so that there is no misunderstanding about what the agreement was. Once you have made an agreement, make sure you do what you have agreed to do.
It is never a good idea to pay your rent in cash. If you insist on paying in cash, you must get a receipt from the Landlord at the time that you pay the rent. This will protect you in case there is a dispute over whether you paid.
Paying with a check is recommended because it is another form of proof that you have paid your rent. If needed, you can call your bank and they can provide you with a statement showing when your rent check cleared. Nonetheless. even when paying with a check, you should try to get a receipt from your Landlord.
A money order stub is not a receipt because it only shows that you purchased the money order, but does not show that it was received by the Landlord.
If your bank offers an “autopay” service or similar electronic funds transfer service, consider using that service as a way of assuring both that the rent is paid on time and that it is properly documented. Otherwise, an easy way of getting a receipt is to make a photocopy of your check or money order and get the Landlord to sign or stamp the copy indicating the date received.
Before you make any renovations or significant repairs or improvements, such as repainting rooms, adding light fixtures, changing doors or cabinetry, etc. in your home, get the Landlord’s written consent, indicating what work is being allowed and agreeing that at the end of the lease either you will or will not be required to pay the Landlord to remove those items. Bear in mind that under most leases, the Landlord is not required to repay you the cost of improvements unless the Landlord has agreed in advance to do so.
What should I do when I move out? +
When you've decided to move out of the rental property, make sure you read your lease to see how much notice you need to give the Landlord. Most written leases require notice of 30 days or more. If you are leaving at the end of the lease, your notice must be delivered to the Landlord in time, or you may be obligated to pay at least one more month’s rent. If your lease has expired, is silent on the issue of the notice (doesn't say anything about it in the Lease), or if you only had an oral month-to-month lease, then your notice must be given at least 7 days before the next rent payment is due. Also remember that the notice is effective only as of the end of a lease period, so if you give the notice early in the month, you are still obligated to pay rent through the end of the month. If you give the notice late in the month, you may be obligated for the next month’s rent.
Clean the home thoroughly. The lease may require you to have carpets professionally cleaned or to take other steps to assure that the property will be returned to the Landlord in the same condition it was received, ordinary wear and tear excepted. When in doubt, ask the Landlord whether the Landlord wants you to fill nail holes, paint walls, etc. Whatever you and the Landlord agree upon, make sure that agreement is in writing, particularly if you are agreeing to allow the Landlord to charge some work against your security deposit.
When you are ready to turn the property over to the Landlord, take pictures and videos to show the condition of the property. The Landlord is not required to do a formal walk through with you, so your photos may be the only evidence you have that you left the property in good condition.
If the Landlord is willing, do a move-out walk through with the Landlord, have the Landlord write down everything the Landlord sees that might be charged to you and discuss any items that you dispute. If possible get the Landlord to sign a checklist or damage statement. Be aware, however, that the Landlord may find other items of damage at some time after the walk through, so you should be as thorough as possible during the walkthrough.
Make sure the Landlord has a written notice from you telling the Landlord what your new mailing address will be. The law requires the Landlord to send you a refund of or an accounting for your security deposit, and if the Landlord does not have your new address, the Landlord will send those items to the property you were renting, and you may never receive it. File a change of address form with the Postal Service, and give your new address to the 'old' Landlord.