Renting often comes with a residential lease agreement between you and the property owner. Many people aren't sure just how binding that lease agreement really is. Many also aren't sure what constitutes breaking the lease when the language of the lease is non-specific.
A Residential Lease Agreement Is Legally Binding
A lease agreement is a contract, and like any other signed contract it becomes legally binding. However, your lease cannot contain language that specifically goes against your jurisdiction's landlord-tenant act. This is important to understand, because if there's a dispute, you will have the upper hand if the lease contains such language.
Understand that your lease is only subject to your jurisdiction's law. Don't assume that things that worked in another jurisdiction will work in the one that you're in. Landlord-tenant law varies by state, so always make sure that you familiarize yourself with your state's particular version of these laws before pressing any grievances.
A Residential Lease Agreement Might Not Cover Everything
Remember that your residential lease is binding for both you and the property owner. That means that your landlord cannot suddenly make changes or demand things of you that directly go against what's stated on the lease.
There is a gray area of rental leases. If the lease doesn't have any language regarding a specific situation, then it can become difficult to figure out what to do about it.
For example, your lease says absolutely nothing about pets. So, you move in with your dog. A month down the line, your landlord says pets are not allowed on the property. He or she may further give you official notice to remove the pet or consider the lease violated.
So what do you do? Many people think the property owner's word is law, but it's not. You can point out the lease makes no provisions for or against pets on the property. The landlord cannot consider you having one as a breaking of the contract. It wasn't a part of the contract.
The landlord can only change the rules after the terms of the lease agreement have expired. If you're ever in doubt, you should refer to your state's tenant-landlord law. Remember that your jurisdiction's law supersedes your lease.
Don't Just Sign the Lease, Read It
These are all reasons it's important that you thoroughly go over a lease before you sign it. You may find there are many things that can work in your favor. Equally, you will find many things that can work against you.
Understand that you can negotiate your lease, or ask the property owner to add certain clauses, or clarify others. You never want to end up in a situation where you break your lease accidentally. That can lead to an eviction, a lawsuit, a lower credit score, and difficulty finding a new place to stay.