What Renters Need to Know About Month-to-Month Leases in DC

The lease agreement between you and your landlord establishes your legal contract. It’s a legal agreement stating that your landlord agrees to give you a place to stay and provide amenities as a condition to you following all the rules and paying rent.

Failure to pay rent or breach the contract gives the landlord full mandate to terminate the agreement. On the other end, if the landlord violates the contract, you as the tenant can terminate the contract or file a lawsuit.

Because it’s so important, you should never sign a lease or rental agreement until you’ve read it thoroughly and fully understand it.

In this article, we take a look at key aspects you need to know concerning month-to-month leases when looking for houses to rent in Washington DC.

 

Differences between a Lease and a Rental Agreement

A signed lease allows a renter to use a rental apartment for a defined time (typically six months) as long as the rent is paid and the lease terms are followed. The landlord cannot raise the rent or change the tenancy terms during the lease unless the tenant agrees.

In contrast, a rental agreement sets a short-term lease (usually 30 days) automatically renewed at the end of the term unless the tenant or landlord gives written notice to terminate it.

The landlord can change the conditions of the agreement for these month-to-month rents with sufficient written notice.

 

Renters Agreement Terms

When signing your lease agreement, look out for the following terms:

  • Landlord’s future rules

Don’t promise to follow the landlord’s future regulations if they are overly stringent.

  • Rent increases regularly

Avoid clauses that allow the landlord to increase the rent if running costs, taxes, or utilities rise.

  • Utility meters that are shared

Make sure the bill is in your name and that it solely includes your utility charges.

But more importantly, pay attention to and be wary of any provisions that give the landlord complete access to the property.

Many states have laws governing when, how, and why a landlord can enter. A clause to the contrary would not be enforceable in such states, and such a license would be considered an unjustified invasion of a tenant’s privacy in any state.

Hold-harmless clauses such as those that absolve the landlord of any liability for negligence in advance. Courts will almost always ignore these clauses.

Before signing the lease agreement, you should ask your landlord to remove them. It is also advisable to understand all the terms before signing the contract.

Lastly, no box should be left unfilled. Ensure that the landlord fills all blanks when you’re present and get a copy of the agreement soon after you’ve both signed it.

 

Rent, Grace Period, and Late Fees

Your rental agreement specifies the amount of rent, when it is due, and where it must be paid. Depending on your lease agreement, rent may be paid by personal check or money order.

A grace period is a promise from the landlord not to terminate the tenancy until a certain number of rent payments have been missed. This period is seldom specified in a rental agreement, except for a few states that mandate mandatory grace periods.

You might find a condition that says “late fee after ten days,” but that’s not the same as a grace period, which means your landlord can terminate your tenancy if you don’t pay rent on time.

Many landlords have procedures concerning late fees (if rent is not paid on time) and rejected checks. In most places, the amount of late fees that can be levied is regulated by law.

Any included extras in the rent, such as parking, cable TV hook-up, or water, may be specified in the agreement.

Deposits

When a tenant moves in, landlords are allowed by law to collect a security deposit, hold it, and return it upon the tenant’s vacation. A deposit is a financial safety net for the landlord if you fail to pay your rent on time or leave the rental property in poor condition.

A good lease agreement will spell out where deposits will be held, how much interest will be paid, and how the security deposit will be reimbursed or withheld.

Notice for Agreement Termination

When issuing a notice to terminate a month-to-month tenancy in Washington, D.C., both landlords and tenants must follow specific protocols.

Tenants can easily break out of a month-to-month rental agreement but must first give the housing provider a 30-day written notice that they are vacating the tenancy. This means, the notice expires on the first day of the following month after the notice has been issued.

Conclusion

To emphasize, before signing the lease agreement, ensure you understand it clearly. If you do not agree with some terms, ask the landlord to remove them. Don’t forget to inquire about rent payment terms, late fees, deposits, and grace periods.

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