Avoid Legal Pitfalls: A Guide to Writing Compliant Rental Leases

As a landlord, it's important to be aware of the provisions that are illegal to include in your rental lease. Including these provisions can result in legal issues and penalties, so it's essential to understand what to avoid. Here's a summary of things that landlords should not include in their rental lease agreements:

  1. NSF (Non-Sufficient Funds) Charges: When a tenant writes a check for rent or other fees and it bounces, some landlords might charge a fee for the NSF. However, this practice is illegal in some states unless it's explicitly stated in the lease agreement and falls within the state's legal limit for such fees. It's important to check your state's laws on NSF charges before including such a provision in your lease.

  2. Late Rental Payment Fees: Some landlords might want to impose a fee on tenants who pay their rent late. However, this practice can be illegal if the fee is deemed excessive. Before including a late fee provision in your lease, check your state's laws to make sure the fee is legal and falls within the legal limit.

  3. Repairs: Landlords are responsible for making necessary repairs to the rental property to keep it in a livable condition. Including a provision in the lease agreement that shifts this responsibility to the tenant can be illegal. Tenants have the right to a safe and habitable living environment, and landlords must fulfill this responsibility.

  4. Occupancy Amount: Imposing an occupancy limit for the rental property, such as a maximum number of people who can live in the unit, is illegal as it may be considered discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants based on their family size or other protected characteristics.

  5. Pets: Some landlords might want to include a blanket ban on pets in their lease agreement, but this is illegal. Landlords cannot discriminate against tenants with pets, and must allow service animals and emotional support animals, even if there's a no-pets policy in place.

  6. Key/FOB Deposit: It's common for landlords to require a deposit for keys or fobs, but this deposit must be reasonable and not exceed the cost of the key or fob. The deposit must also be returned to the tenant at the end of the tenancy. Charging an excessive deposit or retaining the deposit without just cause is illegal. It's important to ensure that the key/fob deposit is reasonable and does not exceed the cost of the key or fob to avoid any legal issues.

  7. Post-Dated Checks: Requesting post-dated checks from tenants, which are checks dated for a future date, is illegal as it may be considered a form of wage garnishment. Tenants have the right to control their own wages, and landlords cannot request post-dated checks as a condition of tenancy.

  8. Paying Tenants for Services and Taking the Money Out of Rent: Landlords cannot pay tenants for services, such as yard work or cleaning, and then deduct the amount from the rent. This practice is illegal and can result in wage and hour violations. Tenants must be paid fairly for their work, and landlords cannot use rent payments as a way to compensate them.

By understanding these illegal provisions, landlords can ensure they're in compliance with all state and federal laws and avoid any legal issues or penalties.