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Civil Fugitives- Landlord/Tenant Relationship - The Lease

Good relationships are based on solid understanding. Discussion promotes respect and prevents potentially costly problems in the future. When you sign a lease for a year for $500 a month, you have agreed to pay the landlord $6,000, even if you never live in the unit. That is a serious and binding legal commitment. Think ahead. Ask questions. Then sign the lease.

WHAT IS A LEASE?

  • A lease (sometimes called a rental agreement) is a contract between a tenant and a landlord that gives the tenant the right to live in a house or apartment that the landlord owns in exchange for the payment of rent. A lease is a legally binding contract, which means that it can be enforced by the courts.
  • A lease is the best evidence of the specific rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. The lease tells both parties what they can count on receiving and what they are expected to do.

DOES THE LEASE HAVE TO BE IN WRITING?

  • No. Oral leases for one year or less are as binding and enforceable as written leases, but oral agreements are much more difficult to prove. A lease for longer than one year must be in writing to be enforced by the courts.
  • Regardless of how long the lease is, to avoid hassle and problems, get it in writing.

WHAT SHOULD THE LEASE COVER?

At a minimum, a good lease should address:

  • Identification of the leased property (including parking)
  • The amount of rent, what day rent is due, to whom and where rent should be paid, what the grace periods are and what the penalties are, if any, for late payment, the length or "term" of the lease, whether the tenant can stay after the lease expires and under what conditions
  • Who pays for utilities
  • Who is responsible for repairs, specifically repairs to appliances, plumbing, heating, air conditioning, the roof and broken windows
  • Who is responsible for snow removal, garbage pickup, and care of the lawn
  • The amount of the security deposit
  • Whether and under what conditions the tenant can sublet or assign the lease
  • Whether the tenant may terminate the lease should the tenant be forced to move due to military service or business requirements
  • Circumstances under which the landlord may enter the unit (if the landlord does not reserve the right in the lease to show the unit for sale or rental or to put a lock-box on the unit while it is listed for sale, then the landlord will not have this right)
  • Whether and under what circumstances pets are allowed

Be sure to talk about concerns before they become problems

WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT VIOLENCE OR DRUGS ON THE PREMISES?

  • Colorado law provides that every lease contains an implied term that the tenant shall not commit a "substantial violation" while in possession of the premises. A substantial violation means any act which occurs on or near the premises and endangers the person or willfully and substantially endangers the property of the landlord, any co-tenant or any person living on or near the premises, or occurs on or near the premises and constitutes a violent or drug related felony. The commission of a substantial violation is a breach of the lease and subjects the tenant to eviction.

HOW SHOULD THE LEASE BE SIGNED?

  • If there is something in the lease that you do not understand or agree with, DO NOT SIGN IT. Talk it over with the other person. Do not sign the lease until both of you understand it and can comply with everything in it. Once you sign the lease, you are bound to it, and a court will probably enforce it. If any part of the written agreement is changed by crossing out or writing in the change, both of you should initial the change. Be sure that all blanks on a preprinted lease form are filled in or marked through before you sign.
  • A landlord has no legal obligation to give tenants a copy of the lease. A tenant should insist on signing two copies of the lease so that each party can have a fully executed document. Each of you should keep a signed copy of the lease, at least until the tenant has moved out and a mutual agreement has been reached about the return of the security deposit.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE LEASE IF THE APARTMENT BUILDING OR HOUSE IS SOLD TO A NEW OWNER?

  • The landlord cannot terminate a lease and evict a tenant simply because the landlord wants to sell the building (unless the lease expressly gives the landlord this right). When a new owner purchases a building, the new owner also purchases all of the obligations of the previous owner, including the obligation to honor the existing leases. The new owner may not increase rent or change the house rules until the existing written leases expire. A tenant should continue to pay rent to the previous landlord in the same way as before, until receipt of a written notice signed by the previous landlord telling the tenant to begin paying rent to someone else.

DO ROOMMATES HAVE OBLIGATIONS UNDER THE LEASE?

  • Whoever signs the lease as a tenant is responsible for all of the rent (unless the lease provides otherwise). This means that if three people decide to rent an apartment together, but only one of them signs the lease, then only that one person is responsible to the landlord for ALL of the rent. Likewise, if all three sign the lease, then each one is responsible for all of the rent. The landlord, of course, cannot collect the same rent more than once, but the landlord is not limited to looking to each roommate for only one-third of the rent. A roommate who is stuck paying the entire rent may sue any non-paying roommates for their share. It is important to understand that the disagreement is between the roommates, not with the landlord. If a roommate moves out, s/he should ask the landlord to remove his/her name from the lease and get any roommate's name added. Remember, when one roommate moves and others stay, the absent roommate is not relieved from potential liability for all of the rent, if s/he signed the lease, unless the landlord agrees.

WHAT HAPPENS TO THE LEASE IF THE TENANT REMAINS AFTER THE LEASE TERM ENDS - HOLDOVER TENANT?

  • When the tenant stays in the unit beyond the end of the term provided in the written lease, the landlord may choose to treat the tenant as either a trespasser or a continuing tenant. The landlord elects to treat tenant as a trespasser by beginning eviction proceedings. The landlord may treat tenant as a continuing tenant rather than a trespasser by continuing to accept rent. The tenant then is considered a "holdover" tenant and may remain in the unit, subject to the provisions in the original lease which control the holdover tenancy. The new term is for the same length of time as the original term. For example the tenant has a one year lease but continues to live in the unit after the end if the one year, pays the rent, and the landlord accepts the rent, then the tenant and the landlord may have effectively agreed to renew the lease for another one-year period. This is the result if the lease does not state what happens when the tenant remains after the end of the term. Some leases contain a provision dealing with the issue in another way. Rather than a renewal of the full term of the lease, a lease might provide that the tenant can stay on a month-to month basis after the one-year term expires.
  • A holdover tenant must pay the rent specified in the original lease unless the landlord notified the tenant of a rent increase before the lease expired. By holding over after notification, the tenant is deemed to have agreed to the rental increase.

ARE ALL CLAUSES IN A LEASE LEGAL?

  • Tenants have challenged some clauses in leases which courts have judged to be unenforceable. Some of these clauses can be found in leases which are commonly used in Colorado and are available from stationery stores. Here are a few examples:
    • A requirement that the tenant give up the security deposit automatically
    • A statement that the tenant will not hold the landlord responsible for anything, including the landlord's acts of gross negligence
    • A provision allowing the landlord to evict the tenant and sell the tenant's property without going through the court process
    • A waiver of the right to appeal a trial court's decision

CAN A LANDLORD REFUSE TO RENT TO A PROSPECTIVE TENANT?

  • A landlord may refuse to rent to a prospective tenant because of dissatisfaction with the tenant's credit history or financial situation, or for no reason at all. In Colorado a landlord may NOT refuse to rent because of the tenant's handicap, race, creed, color, sex, marital status, familial status, religion, or national ancestry. Examples of housing discrimination include denying an interested person the opportunity to see, rent or buy an apartment or home, yet making it available to others and denying a minority or disabled tenant the same privileges as other tenants for such things as a parking spaces, needed repairs and services or the use of the apartment pool, dining room or clubhouse.
  • There are some exceptions to the general law prohibiting discrimination against members of protected classes. For example, discrimination in the rental of a room in a single family home occupied the owner is acceptable. Preference may be given by a religious organization to persons of the same religious denomination. Preference may be given by a private club to its own members if the lodgings are incidental to the club's main purpose and the lodging is not owned or operated for a commercial purpose. Also exempt is discrimination against a person who has been convicted of the illegal manufacture or distribution of a controlled substance. Discrimination in order to comply with zoning laws concerning marital status is also acceptable. The owner of a single family home is exempt from anti-discrimination laws in the rental of the single family home, provided that the owner does not own or have an interest in more than three single family homes, that the home is rented without the use of a estate agent or other person in the business of selling or renting property, and no illegal advertising is used.

For more information or to file a complaint, contact the Colorado Civil Rights Commission 303.894.2997 or the United States Fair Housing Enforcement Center 303.672.5437.

NOTE: This is intended only to be a guide for both landlord and tenant. This information is provided to you as a service of the Pueblo County Sheriff's Office. Should you still need further assistance in regard to legal matters mentioned in this guide, please contact an attorney of your choice.

 

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