A lease should protect both the landlord and tenant and be enforceable in a court of law. Outlining specific terms will strengthen your lease, however, the best way to create an enforceable lease is by consulting with an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant contracts.
Texas landlord-tenant laws don’t cover everything you might want to include in your lease. It’s crucial to outline your house rules in the lease so you can explain those rules with tenants. For example, if you don’t want a tenant to keep pets or smoke in the unit, those details need to be spelled out in your lease. You may find that over time, you’ll amend your lease as you experience different situations with tenants that weren’t addressed in your lease.
If you’re renting to tenants in Katy, your lawyer will help you construct a lease specific to Texas landlord-tenant law. However, a strong lease will have the following general terms:
1. What a tenant is leasing
It’s important to clearly define what you’re leasing to a tenant, especially when you have multiple renters on the same property or any additional buildings like storage sheds and pump houses. Although most tenants will understand their lease doesn’t grant them access to another person’s rental space, some people don’t see that line.
For example, say you have two rental units on your property – a main house and an in-law unit – and you rent these units to two separate tenants. The main house has a washer and dryer, but the in-law unit doesn’t. A tenant renting the in-law unit might feel entitled to use the washer and dryer in the main house simply because it’s on the property. If that’s not how you intend to rent your property, your lease should clearly state the in-law unit does not come with access to the main house.
2. The lease terms
The terms of your lease need to be specific and include a beginning date and an end date. You also need to state whether or not the lease will automatically renew. For example, you could have a year-long lease automatically renew for another year unless written notice is given, or you could continue the lease month-to-month once the initial term is complete.
Your lease terms are up to you – just make sure they’re specific and clear.
3. A breakdown of the monthly rent
Sometimes the total amount of monthly rent is a collection of multiple rents. For instance, if you’re charging a tenant pet rent and a flat fee for utilities, rent will be comprised of three different fees. The base rent might be $800/month, pet rent might be $50/month, and utilities might be $200/month. The total rent would be $1050/month.
It’s important to itemize the elements of a tenant’s rent and tally the total for them, so there’s no confusion regarding what they’re paying for.
4. Late rent fees and policies
Late fees are designed to get tenants to pay rent on time. If your lease doesn’t outline the terms for late payments, or you don’t enforce late fees, your tenants are more likely to take advantage of you.
How much you want to charge per day is up to you, but make sure your late fees are in accordance with Texas state and local Katy laws.
5. Payment of rent
There’s no law that says a landlord can’t collect rent on a weekend or holiday. However, when rent is due on a weekend or holiday, it’s a standard courtesy to push out the due date.
Paydays fluctuate, and sometimes it’s hard for tenants to pay rent on the weekend. As a courtesy, make it your policy that rent due on a weekend or holiday can be paid on the next business day.
6. Security deposits
Your security deposit terms should include the amount of the deposit, and what that deposit can be used for and how it will be refunded. The law is already specific about what you can and can’t use a security deposit for, but it’s still a good idea to outline those terms in your lease.
Terms regarding deposits should always be double checked with an attorney prior to being written into a lease. A security deposit is specifically designed to cover tenant damages that extend beyond normal wear and tear. There are rules that determine how much of a deposit you can collect, and how Houston landlords should handle deposits.
Check with your attorney before solidifying your deposit terms.
7. Cleaning fees
Deposits are refundable, but fees aren’t. If you want to charge each tenant a non-refundable cleaning fee, it has to be separate from the security deposit.
Check with your lawyer before adding a cleaning fee to your lease. In some areas, you can’t charge tenants for work you regularly perform between occupancies. For example, in some areas, if you routinely shampoo the carpets between tenants, you can’t charge a tenant for it. However, in other areas, you can.
Deposits and cleaning fees can be confusing, even for experienced landlords. Always consult an attorney on these matters before including them in your lease.
8. Subleasing terms
If you don’t specifically prohibit a tenant from subleasing, they might think they can rent out the extra bedroom without your permission. Many tenants unknowingly break their lease in this way.
Always spell out the terms for subleasing your unit. If you don’t want anyone but the tenant to occupy the unit, specify that in your terms.
Not every landlord wants to allow pets in their unit. Whether you want to allow pets or not, your lease should outline those terms. The pet terms should include what types of pets you allow, the deposit the tenant will need to pay, and some landlords charge a small monthly amount for pet rent.
Some pets are harder to regulate than others. For example, a goldfish in a small bowl is considered a pet, but a tenant might not think of a fish as a pet.
Require that your tenants inform you of every type of animal they keep in the unit. However, you don’t need to charge rent for all types of pets. It would be unusual to charge a $300 pet deposit for a goldfish or charge a tenant an extra $50/month for a hamster.
10. Parking rules
When your unit is in a location subject to specific city-imposed parking regulations, it’s important to include those regulations in your lease. For example, say you’re renting a townhome in a popular tourist town, and street parking is limited to 4 hours in the summer. Your tenant will need to buy a residential parking permit from the city to avoid getting towed. Be sure to specify that any parking permits needed to park on the street are the tenant’s responsibility.
Looking for help to strengthen your lease?
To protect your property, you need a strong lease that can be enforced in a court of law. A property management company can help. At Green Residential, we provide landlords in the Houston area with licensed leasing services. We’re members of the National Association of Realtors®, Texas Association of Realtors®, and the Houston Board of Realtors®.
Contact us today to find out how we can help you prepare your contracts, screen potential tenants, and more.