Authored By: Legal Services Alabama


This article tells you what to look for when reading a lease. Unfortunately, most landlords use leases that don't give tenants many rights. Even if you have little choice, you should know where you stand.

What is a lease?

  • A lease is a contract between a landlord and a tenant.
  • A lease says what the landlord must do, and what the tenant must do.

Does a lease have to be in writing?

  • No. Most times, you and your landlord will sign a written lease. However, even an oral lease for up to a year can be valid. The main problem with an unwritten lease is proving what it says. The same is true of any other unwritten contract.

What's in a lease?

  • A lease should set out the amount of the rent payments, and the dates they are due.
  • It should include everything that the landlord agrees to do. For example, the landlord may agree to make certain types of improvements. Remember, if something is not listed in the lease, such as replacing carpet or painting, it will not be effective and the landlord will not be required to do it. For more information, see Repairs in Rental Housing.
  • It should include everything that you agree to do. For example, you may agree to limit the number of people living in the house or apartment and agree not to create a disturbance.
  • In most leases, you agree to pay a late fee if your rent is not paid either on the due date or within some grace period.

Do I have to read a lease before signing it?

  • You should read any lease before signing it.
  • If you cannot read the whole lease, you should at least look for the following:
    • How much the rent is
    • How much the late payments are
    • What happens if you break the lease

How long does a lease last?

  • You and the landlord can agree to have a lease last almost any length of time.
  • If you and your landlord do not agree on a different time, your lease lasts 30 days, or for the period of time that your rent becomes due.
  • In most cases, the lease will keep on renewing for 30 days at a time until either the landlord or you end it. See Ending Your Lease and Moving Out and Landlord's Lease Termination.

Reviewed May 2010 offers legal information, not legal advice. This website provides information on your rights and options. However, the site does not apply the law to your personal facts. For legal advice, you should call a lawyer. To apply for free legal services in Alabama, call the Legal Services Alabama office that is closest to where you live OR call toll-free 1-866-456-4995. You can also apply online HERE.

Last Review and Update: May 06, 2010
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