Off-Campus Housing

 
  Leases and Landlords


 Some basic information about leases and landlords. Click the grey boxes below to expand and view the information. 

Leases

A lease is a type of rental agreement between the landlord and tenant. A lease requires the tenant to stay for a specific amount of time and restricts the landlord's ability to change the terms of the rental agreement. Leases are binding contracts and are difficult to break once signed. You should understand and be comfortable with all provisions of a lease before signing.

A lease must be in writing to be valid, this is preferable because it gives both tenant and landlord a permanent record of their agreement. A written lease fixes all terms of the agreement so that no changes can be made for a given period of time. All obligations are set out clearly. During the term of the lease, the rent cannot be raised or the rules changed unless both landlord and tenant agree and tenants may not be evicted unless they violate a term of the lease.

The disadvantage is that if a tenant has to move before the end of the period, he/she may be liable for the entire period. Be sure to read the lease carefully before you sign. Whether you have a lease or month-to-month rental agreement, when you plan to move out, you must give written notice, usually at least 30 days before the agreement end.

Month-to-Month Rental Agreement

A month-to-month agreement is for an indefinite period of time, with rent usually payable on a monthly basis. The agreement itself can be written or oral, but if any type of fee or refundable deposit is being paid, the agreement must be in writing. A month-to-month agreement continues until either the landlord or tenant gives proper notice to end it. The rent can be raised or the rules changed at any time, provided the landlord gives the tenant proper notice.

Written monthly agreements contain the amount of rent and any rules and regulations, and make clear the rules which a tenant must follow. It is also a good way to help avoid disagreements and misunderstandings on landlord or tenant promises. The disadvantage is that the landlord can raise your 4 rent, terminate your tenancy or change any of its terms with a written notice delivered to you at least 30 days before your next periodic rental date. The tenant can terminate this type of agreement the same way.

Oral agreements have the advantage of being less formal than a written agreement. Unless the agreement is for a certain term (three months, six months, etc.) it is considered a month-to-month agreement, and you can move out with proper notice.

The disadvantage of oral agreements is the lack of clarity. If you end up in court, it is your word against theirs. If your agreement is a month-tomonth agreement, the landlord can raise your rent or evict you with proper notice (30 days on or before periodic rental date).

Separate Leases

Roommates with separate leases have a relationship comparable to that of tenants who live in separate apartments in the same building. The landlord is directly responsible for resolving some serious problems between roommates with separate leases, either by working with the roommates or serving an eviction notice to any roommate who violates the lease. Since the other roommates have separate leases, they do not need to worry about being evicted with the roommate who violates the lease or being required to make up the departed roommate's rent payments.

You should still document serious problems by writing letters to both the roommate and landlord requesting they take steps to solve the problem.

Joint and Several Liability

Under most leases, roommates are jointly and severally liable for the lease. This means any one roommate can be held responsible for the actions of any or all other roommates. Any or all roommates can be sued for the damage done by one roommate. And all roommates can be evicted if one roommate fails to pay the rent. Before you sign a lease, make sure potential roommates are responsible and able to pay their share of rent and other expenses. To protect themselves, roommates should make some sort of written contract between themselves to determine what will happen if one roommate decides to leave.

Pre-Lease Agreement

In order to hold a space for you in their apartment complexes, many landlords will ask you to sign a "pre-lease agreement." We do not recommend entering into this type of agreement with a landlord. You might find yourself bound by contract to a lease before you are really ready to commit.

Leasing Sight Unseen

Some apartment complexes have model apartments for prospective tenants to look through. You should always ask to see the actual unit you will be renting. If you are not able to see it for some reason, ask the landlord to add the following addendum to the lease and sign it:

"Tenant has not had the opportunity to inspect the unit covered by this lease. Landlord warrants that the unit to be occupied by tenant will be in good, habitable condition and will conform to any model unit shown to Tenant in all material respects except as agreed. If the unit is not in good condition or does not conform to the model unit in some material respect, except as agreed to, tenant may give written notice to Landlord that unless the deficiency is corrected within a specified reasonable time, the lease will be void. If Landlord fails to correct the deficiency within the specified reasonable time, Tenant has no further obligations under the lease and the Landlord must return all monies previously paid to him by Tenant regardless of how denominated."

This will give you protection in case the unit you are given is substandard or not as represented. If the landlord refuses to add this to the lease, think twice before signing it.

Your Lease Should

Your lease should state the beginning and ending date of the lease. Be sure that it also includes the amount and type of deposit. A security deposit is money given to assure performance of the rental agreement; it can be applied to rent, pets, or damages and CANNOT have a value greater than one and one-half times the monthly rent.

Check to see that the names of the owner, manager or person authorized to receive notices is listed on the lease. The rules for behavior may be on the lease or they may be on a separate document that should be provided for you- remember, you can be evicted if you do not abide by the landlord's rules. Make sure you ask questions to be sure that you understand what you are accepting. Responsibility for the payment of utilities needs to be specified on the lease. Is it you or the landlord?

Look to see that the lease agrees with the Washington State Residential Landlord/Tenant Act. A copy may also be obtained from Pullman City Hall or viewed online. No rental agreement may contain any provisions in which the tenant agrees to waive or forgo any right or remedy under this act. You may choose to take a copy of your lease to ASWSU Student Legal Services and have it reviewed before you sign it.

Before you Sign the Lease

Landlords usually ask for a security deposit at the time the lease is signed. You may be asked to pay the last months rent, as well. Regardless of what it is called in the lease or rental agreement, any sum you pay the landlord to hold as security for damages to the premises or unpaid rent is considered "security." The money collected may be refundable or nonrefundable. Under the Washington State Landlord/Tenant Act, the term "deposit" can only be applied to the money which can be refunded to the tenant.

If a refundable deposit is being charged, the law requires:

-The rental agreement must be in writing. It must say what each deposit is for and what the tenant must do in order to get the money back.

-The tenant must be given a written receipt for each deposit.

-A checklist or statement describing the condition of the rental unit must be filled out. Landlord and tenant must sign it, and the the tenant must be given a signed copy.

-The deposit must be placed in a trust account in a bank or escrow company. The tenant must be informed in writing where the deposits are being kept. Unless some other agreement has been made in writing, any interest earned by the deposit belongs to the landlord.

Non refundable fees will not be returned to the tenant under any circumstances.

Deposits

1. Cleaning and redecorating charges are not considered part of the security deposit. However, if those charges are to be nonrefundable, the landlord must state that fact in writing. If it is not in writing, these charges cannot automatically be withheld when you move out.

Example: Your lease specifies a security deposit and a cleaning deposit. However, the lease does not say that the cleaning deposit is "nonrefundable." When you move out, you clean the place thoroughly, but the landlord does not return the cleaning deposit. In order to legally withhold the cleaning deposit in this situation, the landlord must treat it as any other security deposit and give you a written, itemized statement of the amount spent for cleaning your former residence.

2. Make sure the charges you pay at the beginning of your tenancy are clearly explained in your lease or rental agreement.

Example: Your lease specifies a security deposit of $350, which is equal to a month's rent. When you sign the lease, the apartment manager tells you that you can use the security deposit in lieu of your last month's rent. However, the written lease says nothing about this arrangement. In this case, insist that the lease be changed to reflect this agreement. If you do not, and you later get into a dispute about this provision, the written lease provision will probably determine the outcome.

Some provisions which may appear in rental agreements or leases are not legal and cannot be enforced under the law. These include:

  • A provision which waives any right given to tenants by the Landlord Tenant Act.
  • A provision that tenants give up their right to defend themselves in court against a landlord's accusations.
  • A provision which limits the landlord's liability in situations where the landlord would normally be responsible.
  • A provision allowing the landlord to enter the rental unit without proper notice.
  • A provision requiring a tenant to pay for all damage to the unit, even if it is not caused by tenants or their guests.
  • A provision stating the tenant will pay the landlord's attorney's fees under any circumstances if a dispute goes to court.
  • A provision that allows the landlord to seize a tenant's property if the tenant falls behind in rent.

Always make sure you understand the legalities and circumstances surrounding your lease or rental agreement. If you find any of these provisions in your lease agreement, DO NOT SIGN THE LEASE! (For more information on Landlord-Tenant Issues click here.)

Non-Legal Provisions

Some provisions which may appear in rental agreements or leases are not legal and cannot be enforced under the law. These include:
  • A provision which waives any right given to tenants by the Landlord Tenant Act.
  • A provision that tenants give up their right to defend themselves in court against a landlord's accusations.
  • A provision which limits the landlord's liability in situations where the landlord would normally be responsible.
  • A provision allowing the landlord to enter the rental unit without proper notice.
  • A provision requiring a tenant to pay for all damage to the unit, even if it is not caused by tenants or their guests.
  • A provision stating the tenant will pay the landlord's attorney's fees under any circumstances if a dispute goes to court.
  • A provision that allows the landlord to seize a tenant's property if the tenant falls behind in rent.

Always make sure you understand the legalities and circumstances surrounding your lease or rental agreement. If you find any of these provisions in your lease agreement, DO NOT SIGN THE LEASE!