Frequently, a homeowner contemplating
renting out his property believes that he will be able to save money by
writing his own lease or using a do-it-yourself lease form found or
purchased online. Almost as frequently, the homeowner realizes too late
that if he had spent a little money up front to have an attorney prepare
a lease, or at least review his proposed lease, he could have saved
himself a lot of time, money, and aggravation. By the time problems
arise with a tenant, it is too late to ensure that the lease contains
all of the provisions necessary to protect the homeowner’s interests.
For example, if the home in question was constructed before 1978,
federal law requires that the lease must contain certain disclosures
regarding the presence of lead-based paint and the homeowner must
provide a prospective tenant with certain information about lead-based
paint. Failure to make the proper disclosure or to provide the required
information may make the entire lease unenforceable. Similarly, state
law may require the homeowner to make disclosures regarding the presence
of mold in the home.
Provisions for recovery of attorney’s fees are also often overlooked
by do-it-yourself landlords. Under Virginia law, a plaintiff may recover
attorney’s fees spent in pursuing a lawsuit only if a contract or
statute provides that he may do so. If a landlord owns ten or fewer
rental properties, the applicable Virginia landlord and tenant law does
not provide for recovery of attorney’s fees by statute. Therefore, if
the lease does not contain a provision for attorney’s fees, the landlord
will pay for his own attorney if he has to sue.
The examples above are just a few of the many issues that could occur
when a homeowner drafts his own lease. Having an attorney draft a lease
for him would normally cost a few hundred dollars when doing it himself
might eventually cost him thousands.
Tarley Robinson, PLC, Attorneys and Counsellors at Law