“It only cost me $5.00 for the lease and I can use it over and over again. All I have to do is make copies.” Sure, what a deal. That’s the lease form he got at Super-Gigantic Office Supply.
“Who pays attention to what’s in a lease, anyway?” asks the landlord. Usually good tenants don’t, because they don’t need a lease to remind them that they are supposed to pay the rent on time and take care of their homes. They would do all that even if they never even met the landlord or knew who he was. In fact, they would track their landlord down and show up at his door with a rent check, even without a lease.
Bad tenants often pay attention, though, especially the professional bad tenants. Professional bad tenants know the law in the state where they live and use it to get to live rent free.
Landlord: “What’s this about notices. Hmm, it says in the lease [the one from Super-Gigantic Office Supply] I should serve it by Certified Mail, so I’ll send it that way.”
Bad tenant: “Terrific! The landlord sent a notice by Certified Mail. That’s specifically prohibited in this state’s Landlord-Tenant Act. I’m going to get to live here two months free!!!”
Landlord: “I’m going to kick that jerk out!! He hasn’t paid rent for three months and I’m tired of it. Let’s see, it’s February 14th. I want him out by the first, but the lease says I have to give him 30 days. So I’ll just make it March 13th, that’s a month, same as 30 days. Good enough.”
Bad tenant: “Great!!! That idiot sent me a 30 day notice but it’s only 27 days, not 30. Even so, this state requires 60 days, not 30. I get to stay three months free!!!!”
Having had enough of this nonsense, the landlord files an eviction and goes to eviction court. Of course, the bad tenant shows up, dressed in a suit he borrowed somewhere and the landlord, always wanting to be comfortable and casual, shows up in jeans and a t-shirt. The landlord states his case and even shows the judge all the paperwork, including the lease.
The bad tenant tells the judge that he wasn’t notified properly and asks for a dismissal and that he get to stay free for three months.
The judge reads the lease and asks the landlord, “where did you get this lease?”
“Oh, from Super-Gigantic Office Supply. I get all my stuff there.”
“How long have you owned rental property?” asks the judge.
“I bought my first property 22 years ago. That’s when I bought that lease form, too. I’ve been using it ever since,” replied the landlord proudly. “I’ve saved a lot of money on forms.”
“What are you so proud of,” asked the judge. “The Landlord-Tenant Act has changed seven times since you bought that form. And besides, this form doesn’t even come close to fulfilling the requirements for this state. I don’t know what state it’s for, but not this one. Ruling for the defendant. I am awarding him three months free rent.”
“But, but, but. . . “ sputtered the landlord, “the lease says right on it. . .”
“I don’t care what the lease says,” replies the judge, “the lease is illegal in this state. It doesn’t follow the law. Some of these clauses are ‘unconscionable,’ which means they may not be enforced because they are in direct violation of state law.”
The landlord was so proud he had saved probably $10, maybe even (gasp!) $20, over the course of the 22 years he had owned rental property because he just kept using the same form he bought 22 years ago. Saving that $10 or $20 cost him around $2,000 in a lost eviction.
Sure, this story is fiction and several state laws were combined into one for the story. But I have sat in eviction court and listened to landlords lose evictions for those or similar reasons. The number one ways landlords lose evictions is bad form and bad service. Your local apartment, rental owners or investors association sells forms that are legal for your state. In fact, every time your state legislature adds a new wrinkle to your state’s Landlord-Tenant Act, attorneys for your association make the changes required in the lease forms. Yes, those forms might even cost $1.00 (double gasp!). But they won’t end up costing $2,000 in a lost eviction.
What with rental property ownership being one of the most regulated businesses in the country, it pays all of us to make sure we are following our rental property laws to the letter—right up to using the correct forms. Bad tenants are lurking, just waiting for us to make a mistake so they can crawl out of their holes and get to live rent free.