Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Rental Agreements

Information on Signing

Before you sign the lease you should be aware of the different types of leases, and conditions that may apply to you after you have signed on the dotted line.

Oral vs. Written Rental Agreements

It is important to be aware of the type of rental agreement you are making when you decide to rent a property. Oral agreements are legally binding, even though they are not in writing. However, if a disagreement arises, you will have no written proof of the initial terms of the agreement. In situations such as these it becomes a case of he-said, she-said and can lead to legal action being taken against you, the tenant. Therefore, for rental agreements longer than one month or with particular stipulations such as pets, it is usually best to have a written agreement.

Written rental agreements, called leases, specify all the terms of the agreement between you and your landlord. It will include information such as amount of rent, when rent is due, whether pets are allowed, who is to pay for utilities, and other information. If the written lease indicates the amount of time that you will be renting the property, you are bound by the lease for that amount of time. This means you must pay rent and perform all obligations outlined by the lease for that period of time. However, you may also sign a month-to-month rental agreement if the landlord makes that option available to you. In a month-to-month agreement, you agree to pay rent at the beginning of each month, and give the landlord a 30 day written notice before you wish to move out.

Individual vs. Group Leases

If you are sharing a property with roommates, keep in mind that there are two types of leases you may sign. The first is an individual lease, in which your lease includes only your room and a share of the living areas. With an individual lease, you are not responsible for your roommate’s part of the lease if he or she moves out. Keep in mind that with an individual lease the landlord can rent the other room(s) to anyone without your approval.

The second type of lease is a group lease, in which all occupants sign one lease for the property. With a group lease, you are in charge of finding your roommates, and have full control over who you live with. The downside of a group lease is that you can also be held responsible for any damages to the property performed by your roommates, and must also make up the difference in cost if a roommate moves out. Both options carry certain risks—not liking the people your landlord rents the space to or being held responsible for other peoples’ actions—so it’s wise to be aware of the pros and cons to all of your rental options.

Security and Holding Deposits

Most leases will require a security deposit, and some may ask for a holding deposit as well. A security deposit is generally required at the signing of the lease. The security deposit is always refundable when you move out of the property, and your landlord is legally bound to return all or a sizeable portion of the security deposit to you.  The landlord may keep part or all of the security deposit if you owe rent, you leave the rental less clean than when you moved in, you have damaged the rental beyond normal wear and tear, or you fail to restore personal property, such as keys or furniture. If the landlord keeps a portion of your deposit for repairs or cleaning they must provide you with an itemized list of what the money was spent on within 21 days of your moving out of the rental unit.

A holding deposit may be required if you agree with the landlord that you want to rent a property, but cannot move in right away. In this situation, the landlord agrees to hold the property for you, in exchange for your holding deposit. Once you move in, the holding deposit is generally applied to the first month’s rent, but be sure to confirm this with your landlord. Occasionally the holding deposit exists as a separate cost that you must incur if you want them to hold the property for you. If you change your mind about renting the property, the landlord may then keep your holding deposit. A holding deposit may also be required by property management companies, while they perform a credit check and call references. In this situation, the holding deposit ensures you will rent the property, assuming a successful background check. If the company or landlord decides not to rent to you after you have submitted a holding deposit, they should return the full deposit to you.

Condition of the Property

Before you sign your lease, it is important to do a final inspection of the property with your landlord. This ensures that you agree on the condition of the property and may help to solve disputes when you eventually move out. Make sure to point out and make a written list of any damages such as holes in walls, broken windows, stains in carpeting, or any other damage the landlord may try to charge to you later. It may also be helpful to take pictures or video footage of these damages for future reference.

In addition to damage, you will want to inspect the property for other maintenance issues, such as water damage, signs of rust in the tap water, lack of hot water, inadequate heating or air conditioning, signs of insects or rodents, and defects in electrical wiring and fixtures. All of these issues are important considerations when you are deciding to rent a property. If you find any of these issues in the apartment or house, be sure to discuss them with the landlord. The landlord is required by law to fix any problems that make the home uninhabitable.

Lastly, it may be helpful to create an inventory checklist which indicates the condition of everything in the property, such as floor coverings, walls, ceilings, doors, windows, light fixtures, and any furniture or appliances if the apartment or house comes furnished. Once you’ve completed the walkthrough, taken photos and filled out an inventory checklist, make a copy for yourself and the landlord, and sign and date it. This is for your protection as well as theirs.