Like Robert Frost’s contention that “good fences make good neighbors,” good leases can promote better homeowner-tenant relationships.
Believe it or not, we occasionally hear from a homeowner that they “don’t bother with using leases.” But, even if they’ve been lucky enough to have avoided any issues with a tenant so far, they’re skating on thin ice.
One of the most challenging responsibilities we face each rental season is that of helping our homeowners to resolve disputes with their tenants. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen often, but it’s unfortunate for all when it does. So often, a dispute is the result of a homeowner’s unclear expectations of the tenants and/or an inadequate lease. WeNeedaVacation.com is happy to supply a sample lease upon request from our homeowner clients.
Important contingencies to include
Does your current lease address the following issues definitively and in a way that protects your interests?
- EXTRA CLEANING REQUIRED: Hands-down the single most fought-over issue.
- Set clear expectations of your tenants regarding the cleanliness of the home upon check-out.
- If extra-ordinary cleaning is required after they depart, be sure to document and verify the fact, either with pictures or with an invoice from your cleaners for the extra time spent.
- PETS: If you don’t accept them, be sure the lease states that the violation of this restriction will result in the forfeiture of the security deposit. If you do allow pets, you might require an extra fee (refundable or not).
- LATE CHECK-OUTS: One way to assure that your tenants will leave on time is by assessing them a fee for each hour they linger beyond the check-out time. Usually, new tenants will be arriving a mere few hours after the others leave, so it’s imperative that you have enough time to prepare your home for them.
- EXCESS OVERNIGHT GUESTS: How many guests do you allow in your home? Is this addressed in your lease? Our sample lease stipulates that “Breach of this restriction will result in forfeiture of security deposit.”
- PAYMENT SCHEDULE: It’s important to stipulate exactly what payments are due from your tenants and by what dates. Read here for more information about Payment Schedules.
- INCLEMENT WEATHER and ACTS OF GOD: Amazingly enough, vacationers have attempted to sue homeowners because it rained during their vacation! Be sure your lease removes any liability from you for inclement weather. Hurricanes or other “acts of God” should also be addressed for your protection. See our hurricane advice to homeowners.
How and when to send the lease
How: Once you have received a verbal or email commitment from a vacationer, you can either:
- draft two copies of your lease template, sign them both and mail them to the tenant with instructions for them to sign one copy and return it with the deposit check, or
- email the vacationer and attach a copy of the newly-crafted lease with instructions for them to print out two copies, keep one for their records, and sign and mail you the other with the deposit check. In this case you will in turn have to sign and mail them a copy.
In either case, be sure to confirm their arrival and departure dates in the cover letter or email.
When: See our advice about when to send and receive the lease and deposits.
What to do if your tenants violate the lease
If tenants violate your lease in some way, you must inform them of the specifics of the violation soon after their departure, preferably within a few days. Otherwise, they may question whether the damage might have been caused by a subsequent tenant.
Massachusetts law regarding the security deposit states:
“If the premises are damaged, the landlord must provide the tenant with a detailed list of damages and their necessary repairs within 30 days after the tenancy ends. The landlord or agent must swear to this list under the pains and penalties of perjury. In addition, the landlord or agent must provide the tenant with written evidence indicating the actual or estimated cost of these repairs, such as estimates, bills, invoices, or receipts.”
It is always a good idea to have your lease checked by an attorney.