The short answer to the question, “Is a Lease Legally Binding?” is a yes.* A lease is a type of contract.
Let’s dig into that a little to understand why it’s legally binding and what that means to you, the renter.
Why It’s Legally Binding
A lease is a contract that delineates the agreements between two or more parties. While we are not providing legal advice of any kind and there are many nuances and exceptions, assuming both parties are of legal age, of sound mind, and neither party is under duress, an enforceable contract generally includes, among other things:
1. An Offer
One party offers to do or provide something. In this case, it would be the apartment and associated services, such as landscaping, maintenance, and amenities.
2. A Consideration
The consideration is what the recipient of the offer promises to provide in exchange for the offer — the rent and any other fees. It too is something of value.
Acceptance is when you and your landlord sign on the dotted line of the lease and accept the document.
What That Means To You, The Renter
When presented with a contract, make sure to take the time to review and understand the lease in its entirety.
While there are no shortcuts to reviewing your contract, here are some items to examine:
1. Lease Expiration Date
If you’re not looking for a permanent residence, you want to know the lease expiration date. If you have a one-year lease and move out after six months, you’ll be financially responsible for the rent payments for the remaining six months of the lease.
2. How Much Notice Is Required
Generally, 60-days’ notice before expiration of the lease is required. This does not mean that one can move out at any point on 60 days notice. It means 60 days before the end of your lease term. Also, pay attention to how you must deliver notice requirements (i.e. in writing, certified mail). Check your lease for this provision.
3. Unexpected Fees and Costs
Besides the rent, there may be additional fees associated with your contract. These may include utilities, non-refundable move-in fees, an application fee for the credit and background check, parking fees, amenity fees. In many cases, you’ll need to pay for your utilities. Many landlords also now require you purchase renters’ insurance. Make sure this is covered in the lease.
4. Your Apartment Unit
There’s nothing worse than being shown a beautiful apartment with an expansive view, large balcony and the latest appliances and then finding your unit is dumpy. So make sure the contract specifies the apartment that will be yours, and it’s the one you expect.
5. Pet Policies
If Fido and Oliver are important to you, make sure the lease specifies that they are welcome residents. If they move in with you and there’s a no-pets allowed, that would be a breach of contract.
6. Security Deposit and Your Responsibilities
Check to see if the contract specifies the agreed amount for the security deposit and outlines the terms for your refunds after you move out, assuming there’s no damage beyond normal wear and tear to your apartment. Check to see what obligations you have to return the apartment in.
7. Community Rules
Make sure to review the rules of the community, whether in the lease or given out separately. Make sure you are comfortable with the rules and that you will abide by them. These could include quiet hours, parking rules, trash handling, and more.
Given how vital your apartment is to your lifestyle, you can’t afford to go blurry eyed when presented with an apartment lease. It is legally binding for you and your landlord. Make sure you read and understand your lease in its entirety before signing.
*In general countersigned leases are legally binding assuming they meet the requirements and restrictions which can vary by state and location. Every situation is different. If you are wondering if your lease is, be sure to do your own research.