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Residential Lease Primer

After 28 years of experience as a real estate attorney I have seen all shapes and sizes of residential leases. The problems landlords and tenants encounter as a result of incorrectly drafted leases cannot be overstated. Both landlords and tenants make assumptions thinking that little mistakes will not make a difference, and that their rights are protected anyway. Boy, are they wrong! I will go through a few basic issues from the perspective of each side of the transaction.
Tenants’ Perspective:
It is important that you know what kind of unit you are renting. You need to know if it is a coop, condo, rent stabilized or free market unit. If it is a coop or condo, it is essential that the lease be specific to such type of unit. In both coop and condo situations, it is necessary to get board approval prior to taking occupancy. Make sure that all promises are contained in the lease. If something is not written in the lease, do not assume you are entitled to it. For example: new appliances, painting, refinishing of floors, or permission to have pets. All these items must be in writing and contained in the lease if you are to be guaranteed that they will be provided to you. Once you are in occupancy, do not assume that just because you have rented the apartment you can do whatever you please. Be sure to get landlord approval before you get a pet, repaint the apartment, do any alterations, make any large holes in the walls, change any appliances, or mount any flat screen TVs. Do not assume that because other people in the building are painting or have pets that you have the same rights.
Landlord’s Perspective:
It is generally the landlord who prepares the lease so the landlord is responsible for putting all details and facts into the lease completely and correctly. Don’t think it is too much trouble to do things right because an incorrectly drafted lease can be an absolute nightmare if things go wrong and you wind up in court. Don’t download just any lease from the internet. Use Blumberg or Real Estate Board of New York forms. Make sure the tenant’s name is complete and correct. Don’t put “Joe” if the tenant’s name is “Joseph”. Put the correct dates, the correct amount of rent and the correct amount of security deposit. Include your own name completely and correctly. If the landlord is a business entity, be sure to clarify what the entity is i.e. a corporation or an LLC and make sure whoever is signing the lease indicates their position within such business entity and clearly signs as such i.e. President, Vice President, Authorized Member. Renting apartments is after all a business and businesses must be conducted correctly. Be aware that anything contained in the lease must be complied with.
To All Parties:
In the age of electronic communications, there are often in addition to the actual signed and executed written lease, many emails going back and forth which may contain other promises and agreements. Be careful of what you say in emails as parties retain these and can use them in court to try and demonstrate additional promises and obligations between the parties.
Attorneys and Residential Leases:
Residential leases are often prepared by the owner of the unit, the landlord, and sometimes by real estate brokers. With all due respect to all of the above, it is often very useful to have an attorney review the lease before it is signed.

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