Leases and Rental Agreements FAQ

Do I need a written lease or rental agreement?

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Do I need a written lease or rental agreement?

The lease or rental agreement is the key document of the tenancy, setting out important issues such as:

  • the length of the tenancy
  • the amount of rent and deposits the tenant must pay
  • the number of people who can live on the rental property
  • who pays for utilities
  • whether the tenant may have pets
  • whether the tenant may sublet the property
  • the landlord's access to the rental property, and
  • who pays attorney's fees if there is a lawsuit concerning the meaning or implementation of the lease or rental agreement

Leases and rental agreements should always be in writing, even though most states enforce oral (spoken) agreements for a certain period. While oral agreements may seem easy and informal, they often lead to disputes. If a tenant and landlord later disagree about key agreements, such as whether the tenant can sublet, the end result is all too likely to be a court argument over who said what to whom, when, and in what context. This is particularly a problem with long-term leases, so courts in most states will not enforce oral agreements after the passage of one year.

For information about what to include in a lease or rental agreement, see the article Ten Terms to Include in Your Lease or Rental Agreement.