What is a lease and why is it important?

A lease is a contract between the landlord and the tenant. The lease sets forth the rights and responsibilities of both the landlord and the tenant. The lease allows the tenant to occupy and use, for a specific period of time, land and permanently affixed structures on that land. In return, the tenant generally pays a specified rent. The lease may set forth other duties and responsibilities of the landlord and tenant. Once the parties sign the lease both are bound by its terms. Landlords should select their leases with care. Before selecting a lease, a landlord may wish to consult with an attorney who regularly handles landlord and tenant matters.


What should a lease contain?

The most important document is the lease between the landlord and tenant. The lease is a contract. Unless the lease contains illegal provisions, a court will require the landlord or tenant to do what the language of the lease provides. The answer to most landlord-tenant questions can be found in the lease between the parties. A comprehensive lease should include the following:

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a written lease?

The advantages of a written lease are generally considered to be certainty and clarity. The lease sets the rent for the lease term. Unless the language of the lease states otherwise, rent can not be increased during the lease term. A lease spells out the obligations of the tenant and landlord. If there are any disputes between the tenant and the landlord, the lease represents what was agreed upon by the parties. Where there is not a written lease, there are often misunderstandings between the tenant and landlord.

The primary disadvantage of a lease is that it binds the tenant to the premises for a specified amount of time. Therefore, if you are planning to live in the unit for a very short period of time, you may not want a lease. Leases can be made for any length of time, so you could ask the landlord if the lease could be written for the time period you expect to live in the unit. Alternatively, if you may have to move due to a job transfer during the term of the lease, you can ask that the lease include a provision allowing the tenant to terminate without penalty due to employment reasons. Similarly, if you intend to buy a house during the rental period you may ask that the lease include a provision allowing you to terminate without penalty upon closing on a home. Georgia law does not allow a tenant to break a lease because they are buying a home or being transferred by their employer.


Does a tenant have any rights when there is not a written lease?

A tenant who occupies rental property with the landlord's consent and makes rent payments without a written lease is called a "tenant-at-will." Georgia landlord-tenant law, including eviction laws and security deposits laws, still applies. A tenant-at-will has the right to occupy and use the rented premises subject to any restrictions upon which the landlord and the tenant have agreed.

Because there is not a written lease, Georgia law regulates the type of notice which a tenant-at-will and the landlord of the tenant-at-will must give to terminate or change the original rental agreement. A tenant must give thirty (30) days notice to the landlord to terminate or change the original agreement. A landlord who has a tenant-at-will must give sixty (60) days notice to the tenant before seeking to terminate the agreement or change any term of the original agreement. This means the landlord must give a tenant-at-will sixty (60) days notice before imposing a rent increase. To protect your legal rights any and all notices should be in writing. When a tenant-at-will fails to pay rent the landlord is not required to give the sixty days notice before terminating the tenancy. If the tenant-at-will fails to pay rent, the landlord can demand possession and immediately file a dispossessory warrant seeking possession in court.


Aren't all leases "standard"? What difference does it make whether the tenant reads the lease before signing it?

Although many leases are similar, there is no such thing as a "standard" lease provided or approved by any public agency or court. Lease agreements differ from landlord to landlord. Therefore, it is very important to read the lease carefully before signing it. The lease is a legal document which defines the relationship between the landlord and the tenant. Both the landlord and the tenant will be held to the language of the lease.

If there are provisions in the lease which you do not understand, get help. Ask someone you trust to explain what the language means. Be careful of lease terms which provide for the following:

Before a lease is signed, a tenant may request changes to the lease. Some landlords will agree to the changes. Others will not. Even if the landlord will not alter a lease, the tenant needs to read it to decide whether or not to sign. If signed, both the landlord and tenant will be required to comply with the lease.


When should the tenant expect to get a copy of the lease?

It is a good idea to get a copy of the lease before signing so that you will have a chance to review it. A tenant should be given a copy of the lease and any rules or regulations referred to in the lease after both the landlord and tenant have signed. If the landlord does not voluntarily give the tenant a copy of the lease and rules and regulations, the tenant should request a copy in writing. Since the lease spells out the tenant's and landlord's responsibilities, it is important for both parties to have a copy of the lease to answer any questions. Keep your lease in a safe place.


The resident management of my apartment complex refuses to provide me with the name and address of the property owner. How can I find out the name and address of the property owner?

At the time you signed your lease you should have been given the name and address of the owner of the property or his authorized agent for purposes of receiving lawsuits and other legally required notices. The tenant should also be given the name and address of the person authorized to manage the property.

After signing the lease, if there is a change in the designated individuals or their name or address the landlord should give notice to the tenant within thirty days of the change. Such notice may be sent to each individual tenant or posted in an obvious place such as the complex office or the community bulletin board.