Advantages of a Written Lease

Sometimes when renting a property, especially from a private homeowner, a written lease is not always used. However, a written lease has its advantages and serves as a means to protect yourself as well as the proprietor.

What is a Lease?

  • A lease is a contractual arrangement calling for the lessee (user) to pay the lessor (owner) for use of a rental property.

The Lease

  • A lease must be in written form to be legally binding
  • Ask questions regarding provisions
  • Scrutinize the Lease
  • Negotiate for more favorable provisions in the lease to protect yourself later
  • Once it has been signed, you will be strictly held accountable to it
  • Changes made to any lease should be signed by both tenant and landlord.

Advantages include:

  • Legally binding
  • Documents & sets forth the rights and duties of both parties in writing
  • Assures your right to live in the premises for a specific period of time
  • Assures that rent will remain at the stated amount during that period of time

Points to consider before signing a lease:

  • Examine the Property
  • Make Note of Needed Repairs
  • Get Verbal Promises in Writing
  • Get Receipts
  • Discuss the Amount of Security Deposit
  • Know your Status
  • Discuss Tenant Responsibilities
  • Know the Law on Discrimination in Housing

View a sample Lease

Co-Signing a Lease

Recognizing the Implications of co-signing a lease:

There may be times when a tenant does not have the income required to rent an apartment. (The total yearly rent for an apartment should not exceed more than 30 percent of an individual’s income.) Therefore, some landlords will require a co-signer.

The landlord may require that the renter provide a co-signer, as a precaution to ensure payment of the rent. A co-signer, to be acceptable, usually needs to meet all the qualifications that a tenant needs to meet good credit, employment record and sufficient income.

Some apartments say “No co-signer permitted,” although exceptions are sometimes made. It is often helpful if the co-signer (eg a parent or guardian) makes the initial contact with the apartment, or accompanies the renter on the tour of the apartment.

Cosigning a lease is a serious responsibility that should not be taken lightly. If a tenant cannot afford the apartment or cannot budget his/her money properly and defaults on the lease, the landlord can seek payment from the co-signer, even if the landlord must take the co-signer to court.

A co-signer is responsible for the full year of the lease and for any renewals thereafter. If the tenant has been paying his rent on time during the first year, and should his income improve enough to have the apartment on his own, then before his current lease renews, he should seek to have a non-co-signed lease for the future.

If the tenant is unwilling to do this, and the co-signer wants to be relieved of future potential liability, then the co-signer should send a written notice to the landlord, before the lease renews, that at the end of the current lease he will no longer be a co-signer.

Eviction/Lease Term

The most common reasons for eviction are non-payment of rent, breach of lease, or remaining on the premises after the termination of the lease period. As previously mentioned, once the lease is signed, the tenants are obligated to fulfill the terms of the contract. Consequently, failure to pay the rent on time or a lease violation such as excessive noise or ignoring per prohibitions- will often set into motion the eviction process.

To evict a tenant, the landlord must first send a termination notice, usually in the form of a letter. The next step is to file suit in the district court where the rental unit is located. After the documents are filed with the court, a summons will be sent notifying the tenant of the hearing date. If the tenant fails to appear at the hearing, he or she will be held liable for any court and repossession costs which the landlord might incur including attorney’s fees. If the court finds in favor of the landlord; it will order the tenant’s possessions from the apartment. Also, an evicted tenant may have to bear the cost of rent due should the landlord be unable to re-rent the premises.

Smalls Claims Court

Any lawsuit claiming $5, 000 or less is considered a small claims action. Landlord-tenant claims typically involve security deposits, rent, refunds, or damage to the property.

If you have a controversy with your landlord and have exhausted all other avenues, you may decide to file a small claims action. If you file such a suit, you will be the plaintiff and the landlord will be the defendant. You do not need an attorney.

To initiate a small claim, go to your local district court to obtain the one-page form. Complete it, and return it to the court. Court costs (approximately $20) can be added to the claim. Once the claim is filed with the court, papers will be served on the defendant requesting his or her presence in court. The hearing is usually within 6 to 8 weeks after the suit is filed.

Nothing can replace careful preparation for your hearing. Attend a session of small courts so you will know what to expect. Draft and polish your written claim, and practice your verbal statement several times. Be sure to have all correspondence, receipts, witnesses, and other documentation ready. Your preparation will pay off in the increased likelihood of a successful conclusion to your case.

Lease Termination

Leases do not simply end after a year. A formal, written notice to vacate must be given to the landlord at a specific time or the lease may renew for an additional period. Verbal notice is not enough. Check your lease to see how far in advance you must notify the landlord before leaving the apartment. Failure to give notice before vacating can result in forfeiture of your security deposit. You should provide the landlord with your forwarding address and you may request the return of your security deposit in the same letter.

Sample Letter to send at Move-Out

This letter must be sent at least 30 days prior to lease termination unless additional time is required by the lease. In addition, this letter can also satisfy the notice requirement of the tenant’s desire to be present when the landlord inspects for damage. Such a notice must be sent by certified mail 15 days prior to the date of moving. Inspection must be no later than five days after the move.


Landlord Name
Landlord Address

RE: Apartment 101
333 Good Valley Road
Owings Mills, MD 21117

Dear Landlord,
This is to advise you that I will be ending my tenancy at the above mentioned apartment on May 13, 2012. I would request the right to be present during inspection of my apartment for damages. I will be moving to 911 Crest Point Rd, Randallstown, MD upon vacating. All future letters or notices should be sent to me at that address.

Tenant Name

Security Deposits

A security deposit is any money given to the landlord by the renter to protect the landlord against non-payment or damages to the leased premises. The total amount of the security deposit may not be more than two month’s rent. The landlord must place the security deposit in an interest-bearing account at a bank. The interest is returned to the renter with the deposit at the termination of the lease.

You have a legal right to receive a receipt for the security deposit. The receipt could be either a written clause in the lease or a separate document. You also have the right to request a written list of damages existing in the apartment at the time you take possession. You can exercise this right only by making a written request to the landlord within days of occupancy as specified in each individual lease. You may also make your own inspection, although this should not replace your written request to the landlord. Be sure that the landlord’s list includes all damages you have noted during your own inspection. At the end of your tenancy, you have the right to be present when the premises are inspected for damages. This right, however, must be requested by certified mail within lease specified time prior to the date of moving. Include your intention to move, the date of your move, your new address, and your desire to be present for the inspection.

There is no guarantee that your security deposit will be returned to you. The landlord may withhold all or part of the deposit for nonpayment of rent, damages to the premises beyond normal wear and tear, and utility or other bills the tenant may have neglected to pay. The landlord can withhold or deduct money only for actual damages. To minimize the possibility that your deposit will be unreasonable withheld:

  • Keep a copy of your lease and all correspondence;
  • Make sure you obtain a receipt for your deposit;
  • Keep all receipts/ canceled checks for rent payments; and
  • Send correspondence to your landlord by certified mail or take a copy to the landlord and obtain a written receipt.