What to Look For and Avoid in a Lease
This page is not meant to be a complete summary of Florida’s Landlord/Tenant Laws or to address every possible issue which may be raised by a lease and/or the Landlord/Tenant Law (Statute 83, Part II). However, you should be aware that a lease is a legal document which is likely to have been prepared by the landlord’s attorney. Consequently, its provisions are likely to be most beneficial to the landlord. If you wish to have a lease reviewed by an attorney at Student Legal Services, please contact our offices. Our services are free to UCF students. We hope the following will help you identify areas of potential problems / conflicts in a lease.
Early Termination Clause
Can you terminate the lease prior to its expiration date by paying an early termination fee (e.g. one (1) month’s rent)? If not, and you vacate early, you could be held liable for rent due for the remainder of the lease or until the apartment is re-rented. This could translate into several months’ rent. Many leases contain an “acceleration” clause. This means that if you vacate early, any future rent due under the lease becomes immediately due and payable.
If rent is paid late, how much will the landlord charge you in late fees? Some leases provide for a flat late fee, others for a daily late fee, or a combination of both. Still others may charge you no late fees whatsoever. A nearby apartment complex is known to charge a $50.00 late fee if rent is not paid by the 5th of the month. Others, may charge you a $20.00 flat fee and additional $2.00 or $5.00 daily. Most leases state that late fees are considered “rent”. Consequently, a renter / tenant could be evicted solely for his/her failure to pay these late fees.
Any provision regarding late fees is usually included in the same paragraph as that pertaining to the payment of “rent.”
Is there an automatic forfeiture (loss) of the security deposit if you terminate your lease early? Some leases state that you automatically lose your security deposit even if you find someone else to take over your lease and the landlord has suffered no damages. The lease may state that the security deposit will be treated as “liquidated damages” for the landlord’s re-rental expenses. The landlord will use this clause as a justification to keep your security deposit even if there are no actual re-rental expenses.
Payment of Security Deposit Up-Front
Another trend that has recently come to our attention is that some apartment complexes are asking students to pay the security deposit up front when they sign an application form. The application form contains language allowing the landlord to keep the security deposit in the event the student is offered an apartment but declines to move in. A nearby apartment complex provides a 72 hour cancellation period. However, another nearby apartment complex does not provide any sort of cancellation period. Florida law does not mandate a 3 day cooling off period for residential leases.
The result of this practice is that we have seen some students who have lost their security deposit without ever having signed a lease or moved into an apartment.
Our advice to you is that you should not give a security deposit with your application form unless you are 100% certain that you want to move into a certain apartment complex. Even so, you should negotiate for an extended period in which to change your mind and get your deposit back (e.g. 2 weeks). Also, you should write down on the application form that the landlord must notify you in writing within X days / weeks as to whether or not you have been accepted and that if he fails to do so, you are automatically entitled to the return of your security deposit. Any changes to a written application or lease need to be in writing. Oral promises are not legally sufficient.
Joint and Several Liability
Will you be held liable for your roommate’s portion of the rent if they do not pay? The answer to this question often depends on whether or not you and your roommate(s) signed one (1) lease agreement with the landlord or each roommate signed a separate lease agreement. If you and your roommate(s) signed one lease agreement, this is indicative that each roommate is responsible for the entire rent due under the lease. If each roommate signed a separate lease, you should only be responsible for the portion of the rent due under your lease. In the latter situation, you are renting a room in an apartment with access to the common areas. The method by which you pay rent is also indicative of whether or not your are jointly and severally liable for rent. If rent is payable by one (1) check instead of separate checks, this is indicative that each roommate is jointly and severally liable for all rent (e.g. there are two students living together and each has agreed to pay one-half of the total monthly rent. They both signed the same lease which provides for the payment of $500.00 per month in rent payable by one check. If one student leaves, the other student would be liable for the entire monthly rent of $500.00). Further, if the second student could not afford to pay the entire rent by themselves and moved out, they could be held liable for any rent due for the remainder of the lease or until such time as the landlord was able to re-rent the premises.
If your lease states that you rent a room in an apartment and share the common areas, you would not be responsible for any rent due by any of your roommates. However, you will likely be held liable for any property damage to the common areas regardless of who caused same. Common areas include kitchen, dining room, living room, hallways, etc. The same will usually apply to your room. You will be responsible for any damages to your room regardless of who caused it.
If a parent or other adult relative signs a guaranty he or she will be responsible to the same extent that you would be. In other words, the landlord could seek to bring a lawsuit against the guarantor and/or report any alleged debt to a credit reporting agency.
Inspection of the Premises
Most leases state that you have to provide a list of any problems / damages to the apartment within a certain time (e.g 24 hours, 72 hours, 7 days, etc.). Most leases state that the landlord will provide you this form. If you do not return the inspection report within the time allotted or fail to report any visible damages, there will be a presumption that any damages not listed in the report occurred during your occupancy. Read the lease and make sure you comply with this provision. Further, you should err on the side of caution and note everything which is wrong even if you consider same to be minor (e.g. stains on carpet, where, how many?). Keep a copy of the inspection report! If a dispute arises regarding whether any damage was preexisting, you will need this report. Don’t rely on the landlord to keep this report for you. Also, it may be a good idea to take pictures of the apartment / duplex / house before you move in and date these pictures. You should pay particular attention to the condition of the flooring, carpet, and yard (if you are responsible for keeping up the yard).
Before you vacate any house / apartment, schedule a walk-through inspection with the landlord or its agent. Ask for a copy of the final inspection report for your file. Read the Lease provisions regarding the return of the security deposit. Make sure you do everything you are required to do in order to get your security deposit back. After you have cleaned the apartment, you should take pictures of the premises including the inside of appliances, bathroom, bathtub, etc. You will then have pictures of the apartment showing what it looked like before you moved in and after you moved out.
Notice Prior to Vacating
Many leases require that you give a thirty day or sixty day written notice advising the landlord of your intent not to renew the lease prior to the expiration of the lease. Failure to provide this notice could result in forfeiture of the security deposit as well as your being held responsible for an additional month’s rent. These leases state that if you fail to provide the requisite written notice you will have a month-to-month lease until you give the landlord a 15 day or 30 day written notice or similar language to that effect.
It is advisable to obtain renter’s insurance if you have valuable personal property such as a television, stereo equipment, and/or a computer. Legally, a landlord is not an insurer of your property. Even if damage to your personal property was caused by a defect in the rental premises, you would still need to prove that the landlord was negligent (the landlord knew or should have known about the defect and that he or she was statutorily and/or contractually liable for breach of a lease provision requiring him or her to maintain the premises). In addition, many leases contain a limitation on the landlord’s liability even when the tenant is able to prove negligence.
Any requests for repairs and/or maintenance should be made in writing and should be dated. Keep a copy of any and all maintenance requests for your records.
Additional Cautionary Note
- Never sign a lease without reading it.
- Never sign a lease you don’t understand. There is no required grace period for canceling leases so if you sign, you are bound by the agreement.
- If you have any questions, ask for a copy of the lease and take it to a parent, your Student Legal Services officer, or other knowledgeable individual prior to signing it. If a Landlord will not provide you with a copy of a blank lease, ask yourself what does they have to hide? Do you want to deal with this type of landlord?
- Do not sign the lease with first examining the specific apartment you will be renting. This is not the same thing as a “model” apartment.
- If you and the landlord agree to any changes or additional provisions, these must be included in writing in the lease.
- Never sign a lease with blank spaces.
- Get a copy of your lease as soon as you sign it.
* This website is for general education only. It is not intended to be used to solve individual problems.