Or, for the grammar sticklers: The Lease, I Can Do!
When you rent an apartment, house or condo, the biggest part of the rental process (aside from paying the rent) is signing the lease. The lease agreement sets out the terms and conditions of the rental, how problems are to be addressed, and when there is any dispute, the lease is the first place tenants, landlords, and ultimately the court, are going to look to find a resolution. It is important to remember that it’s a contract, a legally binding document, so it’s crucial that both tenants and landlords fully understand what it is they’re signing before they put pen to paper.
That’s where I come in. Now until the end of the year, I am offering my lease review service – normally a $99 flat-fee service – at a 50% discount, for only $50! What this entails:
I review the lease agreement and any related documents that go with it – house rules, lead disclosures, energy efficiency disclosures, etc. – and provide you written feedback on those documents as to their legality, enforceability and any potential issues that may come up down the road. If there are clauses or terms that are problematic, I will point those out and indicate how they could affect the situation. You then have the peace of mind of knowing what to expect at lease end or if a problem happens during your tenancy.
For example, I see a lot of leases that have clauses dealing with the security deposit that don’t put a deadline on returning it, or say that the landlord can keep it for various “violations” of the lease. Since Maine law covers how a security deposit has to be treated, clauses like that are illegal and void, and Maine law will control. Me reviewing your lease isn’t going to change those clauses in your lease, but you’ll know that, come lease end, your landlord can’t try and keep your security deposit illegally simply because that’s what’s in the lease.
The other big thing I see in leases that’s prohibited by Maine law are escalation clauses. These are terms that say if you break the lease early, you owe the landlord all the rent left on the rest of the lease. Those kinds of clauses are illegal here – Maine law requires landlords to make a legitimate effort to re-rent the place and mitigate his or her own damages. They can’t just “call in” the rest of the lease because you left early, so that clause would be null and unenforceable. But unless and until you know that, you may be hesitant to exercise your right to break the lease early, something you may feel compelled to do because of unsafe conditions or other reasons.
Knowledge is power, so knowing exactly what’s in your lease and how it operates under the law gives you added bargaining power when it comes to negotiating the lease and managing any situations that come up while you’re renting. Still not convinced? Here are a few questions I’m frequently asked about my lease reviewing service:
When should I have my lease reviewed?
Ideally, before you sign it. When you’re looking at an apartment, ask the landlord then for a copy of the lease they’d want you to sign, and feel free to indicate you want your lawyer to take a look at it. If the landlord refuses, hesitates or balks at letting you or your lawyer look over it before you sign it, don’t sign it. Landlords and tenants both benefit from having clear, understandable, and legal leases. Landlords who are resistant to having someone review their lease agreements are most likely aware that there are illegal provisions in their lease and they’re betting on you not knowing that. Knowledge is power, and this is the knowledge you’ll want should there be an issue with the tenancy.
I already signed my lease, so how would this help me?
Even if you’re currently in the middle of a lease, it’s still a good idea to have a lawyer look it over so that you know what to expect when the lease ends, or if issues come up mid-lease. Just because you’ve already signed a lease doesn’t mean you’re stuck with provisions in it that aren’t legal.
What happens if you find illegal provisions in the lease?
Like any legal question, or the punchline to a joke about adult diapers, the answer is, “It depends.” Certain provisions dealing with security deposits might be bad for the tenant on paper, but since Maine law controls in those situations, it may not be worth raising that as an issue mid-lease because it’ll shake out at the end when it comes time to return your deposit. Conversely, if there are provisions about how utilities are paid, or heat provided, or other things that affect you immediately, those may be worth bringing up the moment they’re discovered to preserve your legal rights. Each situation is unique, so each situation deserves its own evaluation.
My landlord isn’t willing to change the lease he/she wants me to sign, so what’s the point in having a lawyer look at it?
Having a lawyer provide feedback on your lease doesn’t guarantee that the landlord is going to be receptive to and adopt those changes, but it at least gives you the peace of mind of knowing that, even if the landlord insists on keeping certain clauses, they can’t be used against you if they’re illegal. Maine law makes it very clear that illegal provisions in leases can’t be enforced, and tenants can’t be forced to sign away legal rights provided by Maine law. See 14 M.R.S. § 6030. Even if the landlord isn’t willing to change the lease, it’s worth it to know what clauses can and can’t be used against you later on.
I’m a landlord, so how would this service help me?
My lease review service is not limited solely to tenants! I routinely review leases on behalf of landlords as well, and there are plenty of reasons to have a lawyer look it over. Maybe it’s been years since you updated your lease agreement; the law changes and you need to make sure your lease changes with it. Maybe you’ve been using a form from the internet for years and never had a lawyer look at it. Maybe the recent enforcement climate has you concerned about your lease. Whatever it is, it’s always good to have a knowledgeable lawyer look over your agreement and point out any items that could be potential problems. If, after giving it a thorough review, it turns out your lease needs anything from a little fine-tuning to a complete re-write, I provide all those services and have a wealth of lease terms and forms to draw from to custom-tailor a lease that fist you and your property.
How do I get started?
Contact me to get the process started. I’ll need some information from you about the place you’re renting and your landlord, and once I’ve checked for conflicts, you can send me a copy of your lease to review. I offer 24-hour turnaround, so you’ll have a written report within a day, and I’ll be here to answer any questions you may have.
Remember, the more you know about your lease and your rights, the better off you’ll be if and when the time comes that there’s a dispute regarding your lease or your tenancy. Peace of mind comes with knowing how that will play out and not feeling like you’re at the mercy of a document that you don’t completely understand. Right now, that peace of mind is on sale, so take advantage and sleep better knowing your lease and your rights!