Do we need a lease?
December 11, 2012 12:39 PM   Subscribe

Landlord doesn't require a lease or a security deposit. Should I be concerned?

We found a new apartment. The landlord lives in another unit in the building. He has apparently been doing this for 25+ years and is consequently very laid-back. He does month-to-month rentals with no security deposit. Great for us, but I'm also concerned that we could end up getting screwed somewhere down the line.

What are the possible repercussions of going into this without a formal lease? The landlord said we could find a lease on the internet and sign that if we want. Good idea, or unnecessary? My partner thinks I'm worrying about this too much.
posted by baby beluga to Home & Garden (23 answers total)
Month to month means your landlord can raise your rent whenever he wants and can kick you out after any given month.
posted by murrey at 12:43 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Potential repercussions depend on your jurisdiction. Where are you located?
posted by phoenixy at 12:43 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't be fooled -- you will have a lease, it just won't be written. That means that the terms of your lease will be governed by state/local law, rather than by a document you've signed. Some people are OK with this -- but in order to decide whether you're one of those people,you'll need to check your state/local law. Best way is to call a local tenant's rights organization.
posted by devinemissk at 12:46 PM on December 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

It's a risk, but talk to the other tenants in the building before metafilter scares you off. There are some weird, cheap apartments that are good, and some that are bad. If he's open to a generic lease, that's great! Also, look up on local tenant laws.

My parents rent out part of their house, and they don't require a security deposit in large part because Massachusetts tenant law makes the security deposit more trouble than it's worth. They do, however, ask for first and last. Do you have to pay first and last but no additional security? If so, that's not super weird.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 12:47 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Depends on the tenants rights of where you live, but one thing that comes to mind is this guy could decide "January is going to be double the rent of December, suckers!" or he could say "Hey my friend Joe is going to move into this apartment next month, so scram" and you'd find yourself in a pretty shitty situation.

Of course, the law of the land will be in effect, it just depends on which might give you more protections: a lease, or the law.
posted by fontophilic at 12:48 PM on December 11, 2012

The landlord said we could find a lease on the internet and sign that if we want.

I grew up in one lease-less apartment after another and that line right there sounds like he actually is just a laid-back old pro. However, there's a lot of downsides to living without a lease. For one thing, if the tenant laws in your state aren't strong (or favor landlords over tenants) this can cause all sorts of problems if he wants you to leave sooner than you'd like (even for reasons that have nothing to do with your tenancy.) For instance, we almost ended up homeless once because we were pretty fresh off the boat, didn't know enough about tenant rights and the landlady needed our apartment for her nephew. We avoided that fate simply because my mother was a battleaxe. Living without an official lease may come down to a fight at some point, so be ready or don't move in without one.
posted by griphus at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Where do you live? This is super-important.

I work at a legal clinic that does a lot of landlord and tenant issues. I, personally, don't have a lease, and have had no problems (or at least the problems I've had with my unit my landlord has been good about fixing / sorting me out with). But this is not always the case.

Really there's just nothing we can say until we know where you are.
posted by Lemurrhea at 12:49 PM on December 11, 2012

The landlord said we could find a lease on the internet and sign that if we want. Good idea, or unnecessary?

IANYL. As a matter of general landlord-tenant relations, you likely have more to lose than he does without one.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:59 PM on December 11, 2012

Also, in the borroughs of New York, sometimes there's NO notice requirement. (This gleaned from my watching of People's Court).

If you want the protection a lease affords, write one up that benefits you. If the guy will sign it, bonus, if not, then onwards and upwards.

Here are some things you may want to put in the lease:

1. Amount of notice you want/will give before moving
2. Locking in the period of time the monthly rent will be in effect. (12 months, 24 months)
3. If you want to have a pet.
4. What the landlord is responsible for by way of repairs. (My friends were given a lease where THEY have to replace the appliances if they break. Yeah, that was crossed out.)
5. What is included in the rental price: Garbage, Water, Gas, Electric, etc.
6. Any repairs that must be completed prior to your move in date.

When moving in, use a punch-list, noting the condition of the apartment on the day that you take it. Take lots of pictures. Just because he doesn't have a deposit doesn't mean he can't come after you for repairs after you move out.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:02 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Also, in the borroughs of New York, sometimes there's NO notice requirement. (This gleaned from my watching of People's Court).

This is untrue:
A month-to-month tenancy outside New York City may be terminated by either party by giving at least one month’s notice before the expiration of the tenancy. For example, if the landlord wants the tenant to move out by November 1 and the rent is due on the first of each month, the landlord must give notice by September 30. In New York City, 30 days’ notice is required, rather than one month.
posted by griphus at 1:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

There's what could he do, and then what has he done. Landlord for 25 years and everyone's ok with that? I mean, sure, check with your tenant association, but what is worse: what might happen with no lease, or what will happen if you don't land this apartment?
posted by zippy at 1:04 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Just to provide a bit more info:

In Ontario, you'd be governed by the Residential Tenancies Act. It'd be a month-to-month lease, you'd have to give 60 days' notice to move out (or the equivalent money), he could only raise the rent in accordance with the annual general increase (about 3.1%/month). He couldn't kick you out on a whim, only for the reasons that are allowed (illegal acts, non/late payment of rent, own/family use) and with the proper time periods for those. He couldn't charge a security deposit at all, but could get last month's rent.

Personally I find leases generally help the landlord more than the tenant, as opposed to Inspector.Gadget. I can't stress enough how important the statutory framework is on this.

On preview: Ruthless Bunny has good suggestions no matter what. If you have anything that isn't clear, write it down and both of you get a copy. Definitely do a condition checklist taking pictures, date them, again giving copies to both of you. If he doesn't care, great, if he ends up being a jerk, you're safer.
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:05 PM on December 11, 2012

You should indeed be concerned. I can't really give you any advice on the legalities, but I can say that I've found landlords who are "laid-back" about matters like leases and security deposits to be equally "laid-back" when it comes to fixing a broken boiler or the getting the heat back on in the dead of February or letting themselves into your apartment for random reasons or raising the rent without any warning or any number of other big-deal issues. If you're dead-set on living here AND you have really good personal recommendations for this landlord, then finding yourself a lease on the internet is probably a good idea. Again, this is just my experience -- YMMV.
posted by ourobouros at 1:05 PM on December 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

For clarification, I'm in New Jersey. I'll do some research about tenant laws here. Great advice so far -- thanks, everyone!
posted by baby beluga at 1:52 PM on December 11, 2012

Also, my city has rent control, so random rent hikes shouldn't be an issue here.
posted by baby beluga at 2:08 PM on December 11, 2012

The entire city has rent control? Or rent control exists and is granted on certain apartments?
posted by griphus at 2:10 PM on December 11, 2012

The only exemptions are public housing, dorms, monasteries (???), and the like. It's a city ordinance.
posted by baby beluga at 2:14 PM on December 11, 2012

I was on a month-to-month lease and my landlady kicked us out when I was 10 months pregnant because she felt like moving back into the house. So... um... try to avoid that situation.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:09 PM on December 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

corpse, did you fight her kicking you out? I was told (as a landlord) that if I accepted rent from someone not on the lease, I would have great difficulty getting rid of them. My lawyer advised me to have a lease (just a standard one you could buy in a store) for MY protection.
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:45 PM on December 11, 2012

Obscure Reference: it was our understanding there was nothing we could do about it since she was moving back into the house herself. So our lease, which was one year and then converted to month-to-month, didn't actually help us any. (I suppose I was only nine months pregnant, so she wasn't as heartless as I make her sound.)
posted by The corpse in the library at 4:37 PM on December 11, 2012

I didn't sign a lease for two of the apartments I rented in Boston and didn't have any issues.
posted by KogeLiz at 5:03 PM on December 11, 2012

I'm a landlord (as of now, anyway). As a *general* rule, taking an apartment back from a tenant for personal use is one of the exceptions that allows breaking a lease. Notice requirements may vary by jurisdiction.

For a month-to-month, though, ONE MONTH'S NOTICE is all that is required to terminate. It's not an eviction, it's not breaking any agreement, because a month-to-month does not give you any rights beyond the next month.

Leases and month-to-months both have their advantages. A lease can mean getting rid of a bad tenant is a pain in the ass, with notice requirements, court filings, third-party service of papers, and waiting for a court calendar date, all with no guarantee of persuading the judge -- while month-to-month is just "you're done, go". Similarly tenants may like being able to split on a whim. So both types go both ways in terms of advantages and disadvantages. I would not say that month-to-month is automatically more sketchy, but it is more likely to be found with a non-professional landlord (say under 10 units), and may be more common in lower-class areas. But less trustworthy, nah, it's just a consumer choice.

If you don't want a month-to-month, don't rent there. If you want a lease, though, I wouldn't just download one, as you need a lease that conforms to local laws.
posted by dhartung at 11:49 PM on December 11, 2012

The month-to-month lease ending is not actually month-to-month in parts of the Bay Area, where a landlord can still only evict for a short list of reasons: non-payment, illegal activity, moving back in, removing the property from the rental market, and a few others. And in some of those scenarios, the landlord must pay for the tenants relocation as well as a fee of around 10k to the tenant for their inconvenience (and as a disincentive for removing rental properties from the market, I presume)

TL;DR in Tenants' Rights and Rent Control areas, in many ways a month-to-month can be as strong as a normal lease.
posted by zippy at 8:25 AM on December 12, 2012

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