Business Law 101 / Lease terms

By Albert L. Kelley, Esq.

In the last column, I mentioned that the general issues that need to be included in any lease are the property, parties, term, rent, deposits, and maintenance obligations. This column will discuss the details of the term, rent and maintenance obligations.

Term: This actually covers two issues: how long is the lease, and how often does the tenant have to pay rent. These clauses may be related. If the lease is for more than a year, it must be in writing or it will be unenforceable under Florida’s Statute of Frauds. In addition, if the lease is going to be for a specific period of time, it needs to be in writing. If the lease is not in writing, it will be deemed terminable at will, and the length of the lease will be based on how often rent is paid. If the rent is paid on a weekly basis, the lease is said to be week-to-week; if on a monthly basis, it is month-to-month; and if on a yearly basis, it is year-to-year. These terms are important, as they control the amount of notice that must be given in order to terminate the lease. For a week-to-week lease, at least 7 days-notice must be given; for month-to-month, at least 15-days notice is required, and for year-to-year, at least 60 days-notice is required.

Rent: This is the most basic of issues. How much rent will the tenant have to pay? This is strictly a matter of negotiation. There is no law that sets the amount of rent. However, this issue also determines how the rent is paid. Can it be paid in cash, check or cashier’s check? Where is the payment delivered? Can the tenant make a direct deposit into the Landlord’s bank account? Often Landlords will allow the Tenant to make payment in any manner they choose, unless there is one or more returned checks. At that point, some Landlords require all payments to be made by certified check.

Maintenance: The statutes set out maintenance requirements for both the Landlord and the Tenant. Under the statutes, most of the maintenance obligations fall to the Landlord. If you only have a verbal lease, these statutes control. The landlord must maintain the roofs, windows, doors, floors, steps, porches, exterior walls, foundations, and all other structural components in good repair, keep the plumbing in reasonable working condition, ensure that screens are installed in a reasonable condition and repair damage to them once a year. In addition, the Landlord must make reasonable provisions for extermination services, provision of locks and keys, cleaning the common areas, garbage removal and functioning facilities for heat during winter, running water, and hot water. He must also install working smoke detection devices. If the Landlord gives the Tenant a written lease, all of the above can be changed. The lease can transfer the maintenance obligations to the Tenant in whole or in part. If the lease addresses maintenance issues, the lease will overrule the statute. In fact, the lease can even put the entire maintenance obligations on the Tenant, including structural issues.

Al Kelley is a Florida business law attorney located in Key West and previously taught business law, personnel law and labor law at St. Leo University. He is also the author of “Basics of Business Law” “Basics of Florida’s Small Claims Court” and “Basics of Florida’s Landlord-Tenant Law” (Absolutely Amazing e-Books). This article is being offered as a public service and is not intended to provide specific legal advice. If you have any questions about legal issues, you should confer with a licensed Florida attorney.