The Common Law

Moving Somewhere New? Your Lease Terms Are Important.

So you are on the move and considering whether a particular lease makes sense for you. You are not alone – summer is the most common time of the year for Austinites to change rental units. This week's column addresses questions related to nontraditional lease arrangements.

I'm thinking about signing a lease that requires monthly payments but does not say how long the lease is going to last. Is that a bad idea?

It depends. The arrangement you described would create what is known as a month-to-month periodic tenancy. This is a legal term that means that the lease will continue for one-month periods as long as neither you nor your landlord decides to terminate the agreement. Either you or your landlord can terminate the lease as long as proper notice is given. The proper notice necessary to terminate your potential lease would be one month, because you are creating a month-to-month arrangement. This might be good if you want the flexibility to end the lease after only renting the property for a short period of time. Alternatively, this is a bad arrangement if you hope to rent the property for a long period of time, because your landlord could terminate the lease with only one month's notice.

I'm going to rent from my friend's friend. She has never used a lease in the past and doesn't want to use one with me. Is that OK?

The landlord wants to create an oral lease. Oral leases are enforceable as long as they are for 12 months or less. The problem that oral leases create, however, is proving the terms of the lease agreement if a dispute arises between the landlord and the tenant. Many contested situations come down to one person's word against the other's. Generally, if landlords are making legitimate promises, then they should not have any reservations about putting these assurances in writing. Remember that a well-written lease can protect your rights, as well as the landlord's.

If you are interested in learning more about lease agreements, take a look at the following websites: www.texastenant.org and www.housing-rights.org.

Please submit column suggestions, questions, and comments to thecommonlaw@austinchronicle.com. Submission of potential topics does not create an attorney-client relationship, and any information submitted is subject to being included in future columns.

Marrs, Ellis & Hodge LLP, www.jmehlaw.com.

The material in this column is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute, nor is it a substitute for, legal advice. For advice on your specific facts and circumstances, consult a licensed attorney. You may wish to contact the Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas, a non-profit public service of the Austin Bar Association, at 512-472-8303 or www.austinlrs.com.

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