Landlords Beware: Residential Form Leases Do Not Cure All Ills
The word “lease” is a fancy term for a simple agreement: The tenant agrees to pay rent and the landlord agrees to provide a habitable living space. Some leases are lengthy and contain conflicting terms which affect both the landlord’s and the tenant’s rights. In a landlord-tenant case, the court will look at the content of a lease very closely. This is where Google causes more problems than it solves. Free form leases from the internet can be dangerous.
Form residential leases are all over the internet for free. Like most things, if it’s free its too good to be true. For landlords, a free form lease can cost money further down the line. This is especially true if the case goes to landlord-tenant court.
Form leases, by nature, are generic; generic leases can work in as many states as possible. Form leases do not apply relevant New Jersey law and some provisions that protect landlord may be void and inapplicable. Even form leases claiming to be customized for New Jersey may not meet for formal requirements set forth in the law.
The common problems with form leases often relate to two issues: 1) attorney’s fees in connection to litigation and 2) late fees. For example, most form leases have the following attorney’s fee clause:
ATTORNEY’S FEES: In the event that any action is filed in relation to this Lease, the unsuccessful party in the action will pay to the successful party, in addition to all the sums that either party may be called on the pay a reasonable sum for the successful party’s attorney’s fees.
The paragraph seems to say that if landlord sues a tenant, or vice versa, the losing party would pay the attorney’s fees of the winning party. Remember, court hearings for evictions, are considered “legal actions.” Contrary to the plain meaning of the attorney’s fee clause, absent very specific language, attorney’s fee clauses are unenforceable.
Many form leases have following late fee clause:
LATE CHARGE: A late fee of $________ shall be added and due for any payment of rent made after the _______ day of the month.
Even if the clause meets the formal requirements of New Jersey law, a late fee clause may be deemed unenforceable by a court if the late fee is found to be “unreasonable.” Be sure to take care when filling the blanks of the late charge clause on a form lease.
Landlords should take care by having their leases reviewed by an attorney. Offit Kurman practices landlord tenant law throughout New York and New Jersey assisting landlords and tenants in avoiding unnecessary and costly delays. The firm’s geographic practice area includes: New Jersey (Jersey City, Hoboken, Bayonne, Hudson County, Newark, Essex County, Woodbridge, Middlesex County, Paterson, Passaic County). The Firm invites you to visit the “Promises” page for our new way of doing business Continue Reading ›