Before you sign a rental agreement, it is important you understand the terms completely. Breaking a rental agreement can have hefty penalties or, in some cases, may not even be possible.
You and your landlord will enter into a lease or a periodic rental agreement (e.g. month-to-month). Unless the written agreement states otherwise, the rental period is the amount of time between rental payments. The tenancy expires at the end of each period for which the rent has been paid and is renewed with the new payment of rent. In other words, every month your tenancy expires at the end of the month and you renew your tenancy with the payment of rent. Even a month-to-month rental agreement will spell out the amount of time that a landlord must give the tenant for such changes as raising the rent or ending the rental agreement. Likewise, the rental agreement will indicate the required length of notice that the tenant must give before moving out.
A lease usually creates a longer rental term than a periodic rental agreement. Most residential leases are for six months or a year, even though the rent is usually paid monthly. If you have a lease, your rent cannot be raised while the lease is in effect, unless the period of the lease expires for certain reasons, such as failing to pay rent or damaging the property. A lease may be difficult for you to break, especially if the landlord cannot find another tenant to take over the lease. Before you sign any lease agreement, read it carefully and make sure you understand and can meet the terms of the lease. If you have questions about any condition in the lease, take the document to someone who is qualified to give legal advise.
Rental Agreement Elements
The rental agreement should contain the following elements:
names of the landlord, tenant, and all other occupants
address and description of the property
Term of tenancy:
month-to-month, six months, one year, etc.
amount, date due, and acceptable payment methods
any charges applicable to late rent payments and period at which a payment is considered late
amount, date received, percent interest, how interest will be paid, and the process for return of deposit at the end of the lease. Click here for more information on security deposits.
what can happen in the event of default (i.e. the failure of either party to fulfill the terms of the lease)
policy on pets, number of pets, species/weight limitations, pet deposit amount and conditions for refund
number of occupants allowed
utilities included in rent (if any)
who is responsible for maintenance and repairs
Always request a copy of the completed agreement after you and the landlord have signed it. Keep the copy for the duration of your tenancy in the unit.
The following resources provide information on housing and tenancy laws in California:
San Francisco Rent Board
25 Van Ness Ave, Suite 320
San Francisco, CA 94102
Tel: (415) 252-4602
1625 North Market Blvd, Suite N 112
Sacramento, CA 95834
Tel: (800) 952-5210
California Department of Consumer Affairs
You can also find free or inexpensive legal advise at these websites:
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