Before You Agree to Rent

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Before you decide on a rental unit, there are several other points to consider. For example: Is an oral rental agreement legally binding? What are the differences between a lease and a rental agreement? What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each? This section answers these and other questions.

Rental Agreements and Leases

Before you can rent a rental unit, you and the landlord must enter into one of two kinds of agreements: a periodic rental agreement or a lease. The periodic rental agreement or lease creates the tenant’s right to live in the rental unit. The tenant’s right to use and possess the landlord’s rental unit is called a tenancy.

A periodic rental agreement states the length of time (the number of days) between the rent payments—for example a week (seven days) or a month (30 days). The length of time between rent payments is called the rental period.

A periodic rental agreement that requires one rent payment each month is a "month-to-month" rental agreement, and the tenancy is a “month-to- month” tenancy. The month-to-month rental agreement is by far the most common kind of rental agreement, although longer (or shorter) rental periods can be specified.

If the periodic rental agreement requires that rent be paid once a week, it is a "week-to-week" rental agreement and the tenancy is a "week-to-week" tenancy.

In effect, a periodic rental agreement expires at the end of each period for which the tenant has paid rent, and is renewed by the next rent payment. A periodic rental agreement does not state the total number of weeks or months that the agreement will be in effect. The tenant can continue to live in the rental unit as long as the tenant continues to pay rent, and as long as the landlord does not ask the tenant to leave.

In a periodic rental agreement, the length of time between the rent payments (the rental period) determines three things:

  • How often the tenant must pay rent;
  • The amount of advance notice that the tenant must give the landlord, and that the landlord must give the tenant, if either decides to terminate (end) the tenancy; and
  • The amount of advance notice the landlord must give the tenant if the landlord decides to change the terms of the rental agreement other than the rent. (Special rules apply to the amount of advance notice that the landlord must give the tenant to raise the rent.)

Oral Rental Agreements

In an oral rental agreement, you and the landlord agree orally (not in writing) that you will rent the rental unit. In addition, you agree to pay a specified rent for a specified period of time —for example, a week or a month. This kind of rental agreement is legally binding on both you and the landlord, even though it is not in writing. However, if you have a disagreement with your landlord, you will have no written proof of the terms of your rental agreement. Therefore, it’s usually best to have a written rental agreement.

It’s especially important to have a written rental agreement if your tenancy involves special circumstances, such as any of the following:

  • You plan to live in the unit for a long time (for example, nine months or a year);
  • Your landlord has agreed to your having a pet or water-filled furniture (such as a waterbed); or
  • The landlord has agreed to pay any expenses (for example, utilities or garbage removal) or to provide any services (for example, a gardener).

Any time that a tenant and a landlord agree to the lease of a rental unit for more than one year, the agreement must be in writing. If such an agreement is not in writing, it is not enforceable.

Written Rental Agreements

A written rental agreement is a periodic rental agreement that has been put in writing. The written rental agreement specifies all the terms of the agreement between you and the landlord —for example, it states the rent, the length of time between rent payments, and the landlord’s and your obligations. It may also contain clauses on pets, late fees, and amount of notice.

Contact AACSC

Apartment Association,

California Southern Cities
333 W. Broadway St., Suite 101
Long Beach, CA 90802
(562) 426-8341

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