Rental agreements in Houston are legally binding contracts that must conform to Texas state law. A lease containing clauses that violate state or federal law can be deemed null and void by a judge.
However, no matter how much effort you make to be specific and follow the law, sometimes lease terms can be ambiguous and confusing for tenants. Many tenants end up violating their lease unintentionally because they either forget their lease terms or they don’t understand the terms.
Here’s a list of the most common lease terms your tenant might not fully understand. A lack of understanding is usually caused by unclear wording or legalese. However, sometimes tenants just don’t get it.
1. No smoking
If you’re like most landlords, no smoking means no smoking anything in the house, including tobacco, hemp flower, and cannabis. No smoking might also mean no vaping tobacco, nicotine, cannabis, or CBD.
Your tenants, on the other hand, won’t necessarily grasp that “no smoking” includes smoking things other than tobacco or vaping. Some tenants interpret “no smoking” to mean no smoking tobacco cigarettes in the house.
It’s critical to write out the specific details in the lease. If your tenant starts vaping in the house and your lease doesn’t specifically prohibit vaping, you won’t have any grounds for taking action against your tenant. If they’re in a long-term lease, you can’t amend the lease until they become a month-to-month tenant. Then you’ll still need to give them a 30-day notice to stop vaping in the house.
2. No pets
No pets means no pets. However, sometimes tenants don’t consider certain animals pets. For instance, your tenant might bring home a goldfish or a hamster and not think twice about how it violates their lease agreement. To some tenants, pets are only animals that run loose in the house like dogs or cats.
It’s a good idea to write your lease in a way that excludes all animals and specifies the kind of animals you’ll allow, such as a dog or a cat. Simply allowing pets, or saying “no pets allowed” won’t be enough for some people.
Write your pets clause to allow a specific number of dogs or cats, prohibit every other animal, but state that other pets are open to consideration with your approval. Hopefully, your tenants will remember this clause when their kid wants to bring home a hamster from the pet store.
3. No junk vehicles or vehicle storage
Most Houston landlords include a clause in their lease prohibiting all vehicle storage on the property. Some leases include two clauses that prohibit all vehicle storage and specifically prohibit junk vehicles. The junk vehicle clause is important because some tenants will collect junk cars they intend to sell for parts or use for repairs.
Junk cars might not seem like a big deal, but the city of Houston fines property owners between $200-$2,000 for violations.
Houston defines a “junk motor vehicle” as “any vehicle, visible from a public place or public right-of-way, that is:
- Wrecked, dismantled, discarded, or
- Is inoperable and remains inoperable for a continuous period of more than 30 days on private property, and
- Displays an expired license plate or does not display a license plate.”
Tenants might not consider their vehicles “junk,” so it’s important to prohibit vehicle storage in all forms. To avoid fines from the city, allow your tenant to park up to two operable, registered vehicles on the property.
4. Yard maintenance duties
If your tenant is responsible for any yard maintenance, make sure to specify those requirements. For example, if the yard needs to be maintained weekly or monthly, specify what and how that maintenance needs to be carried out. Do they need to mow the lawn? Manage weeds that grow through a fence? Trim tree branches back?
Do your tenants need to water and fertilize fruit trees regularly? Be specific, because if you don’t make your requirements clear, you might end up with dead fruit trees and a yard full of ugly, overgrown weeds.
It’s also good to specify how high the grass can be to avoid being a violation. This is something homeowners associations do, but you can take their lead as a landlord. For example, you can specify that the grass and weeds must be 12 inches or shorter to be in compliance with the lease.
Specifying an allowable height will give your tenant the freedom to do yard work as they see fit, as long as they keep the grass and weeds under that specified height.
5. Appliance maintenance
If you supply appliances for your tenants, you’ll be responsible for maintaining and repairing those appliances. However, you don’t have to supply your tenants with appliances. Granted, it’s unusual for a landlord not to supply a refrigerator, washer, dryer, and stove. However, it’s not required.
If you require your tenants to supply their own appliances, they are responsible for all maintenance and repairs for those appliances. Some tenants might not understand this.
In your lease, make sure you specify the appliances you’re providing for your tenants, and specify that the tenant is fully responsible for maintaining and repairing all appliances they bring into the home.
Want someone to handle your lease? Green Residential can help!
There are countless benefits to hiring a property management company, but the biggest benefit is having your lease agreements created and managed by professionals.
Creating a legally binding agreement isn’t as easy as it looks. If you don’t follow the right format, or include certain clauses, your lease might not be enforceable.
If you don’t want to deal with the stress of figuring out what makes a lease legal and what clauses to include, contact us today. The Green Residential property management team has decades of experience creating iron-clad leases for Houston landlords.
However, we don’t just create pieces of paper, grab a signature, and hope for the best. We’ll meet with each tenant personally to go over the lease agreement to make sure they understand exactly what is expected.
We want to help you manage your properties and tenants so you can continue building profitable investments. Give us a call today to see how we can help you achieve your goals.