What is a lease? - Non-URLTA

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The following document applies to jurisdictions in Kentucky that have NOT enacted the Uniform Residential Landlord Tenant Act (URLTA). If you live in a jurisdiction that HAS enacted URLTA (Barbourville, Bellevue, Bromley, Covington, Dayton, Florence, Lexington-Fayette County, Georgetown, Louisville-Jefferson County, Ludlow, Melbourne, Newport, Oldham County, Pulaski County, Shelbyville, Silver Grove, Southgate, Taylor Mill and Woodlawn), see the URLTA version of this document.

A lease is a legal agreement (a contract) between a landlord and a tenant that allows the tenant to use the landlord's property for a given period of time. The lease is the basis of the landlord-tenant relationship. It sets the terms of renting, such as the cost of rent, the utilities included or not included in rent, the length of time of tenancy, and other rules governing the tenancy.

It is possible to rent property WITHOUT a written lease. However, if you have never signed a written lease with your landlord, then you DO have an Oral Lease with her/him.

If you are renting in a place where the tenancy is from month-to-month or week-to-week (instead of a longer term that would be specified in the lease), there is often NO written lease. Instead, tenancy is renewed every month or week (depending on the case). If there is a lease, the time period of tenancy should be stated.

If you do not follow the lease, you may be SUED for past due rent, lost rent, damages, or any other noncompliance with the lease.

If more than one tenant signs a lease, ALL of the names on the lease are legally responsible for complying with the lease. This means that if one person damages the apartment or does not pay rent, ALL of the people on the lease are legally responsible for the problem as well.

Before entering into a rental agreement (whether oral or written), make sure you UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING you are promising. Plus, remember that all parts of a lease are open to negotiation until the lease is signed. AS SOON AS THE LEASE IS SIGNED, IT IS ENFORCEABLE, EVEN IF THE TENANT NEVER MOVES IN. Be sure to keep a copy of all parts of the lease!

What is a Written Lease?
A written lease puts all of the decisions and agreements made between you and your landlord onto paper. Most landlords already have a lease written up for their apartments and they just ask you to sign it. It is STRONGLY ADVISED that you follow the suggestions in Reading Your Lease before signing anything! There are many things to look for, change, add and exclude. Remember that a lease is negotiable up until it is signed. You can ask to change anything on the lease that you want. Make sure that you get a copy of all parts of your lease after it is signed and as soon as possible. Keep it where you will not lose it (see Introductory Advice). If you do not get a copy of your lease and you have already made requests to the landlord for it, then send a letter to the landlord asking for a copy of the lease. If you still do not get one, then call Tenant Services for further advice.

What is an Oral Lease?
An oral lease is a spoken agreement between landlord and tenant for the terms of renting. If you have never signed a written lease with your landlord, then you DO have an oral lease with her/him. Supposedly an oral lease is just as binding as a written lease. While oral leases may seem convenient at first, they are usually vague and easily forgotten. If your landlord should forget, or choose to disregard, her/his promises to you, it will be your word against hers/his in court. For this reason, ORAL LEASES ARE GENERALLY NOT DESIRABLE. If you are unable to get a written lease, protect yourself! Try to get the landlord at least to write down the amount of rent, security deposit and responsibility for repairs (be sure to SIGN and DATE it). Even if you have an oral lease, you still need to give written notice if you want to end your tenancy.

Reviewed August 2009