When you’re preparing to rent out your Santa Rosa investment property, you need a strong lease agreement that is legally compliant and enforceable in California. Don’t hand your tenant a two-page document; that’s not a lease that’s going to work in our state, which is notorious for its tenant protections.
You need something that’s thorough and detailed, which reflects both the state laws and the needs of your property. A lease protects you and it protects your property. It also protects the residents who live there. Paying close attention to what’s included in your lease agreement is essential to a good rental experience. You want to include as much information as possible so there can be no confusion about the tenant’s responsibilities and your expectations.
A lot of laws have changed in California recently, from statewide rent control to the just cause eviction regulations. In some cities, you cannot conduct a criminal investigation during the screening process.
It’s more important than ever to have access to reliable, state-specific information. Otherwise, you could make an expensive mistake.
While the information included in your lease agreement will largely depend on your property and everything that comes with it, there are a few specific things that need to be covered in every Santa Rosa lease agreement.
Lease Agreement Basics: Identifying the Landlord and Tenant
Let’s start with some of the most obvious and basic parts of the lease agreement that may seem like no-brainers but can easily get left out or ignored because they’re often assumptions.
For example, identifying the landlord and tenants. It seems pretty simple, but you can get so wrapped up in the more complicated matters of a lease agreement that you forget about the need to identify who is bound to the rental contract.
Who is living in your property?
The lease needs to reflect the names of the tenants. Those residents listed in the lease should be every adult who will be financially responsible for rental payments and the property. Include the names and contact information of all of your tenants who have been screened and approved for residency. Throughout the term of the lease, no adult not listed on the lease should be afforded any rights and privileges that come with living in the home.
You can add any additional occupants who aren’t necessarily responsible financially, such as children. They’ll be listed as occupants rather than tenants.
After identifying the residents, the lease agreement should include the name of the property owner or owners. When you’re working with a Santa Rosa property manager, it’s critical to include their name and contact information. That’s the person tenants will want to reach if something goes wrong.
List the Length of the Lease and Renewal Terms
How long is the lease meant to last?
The lease needs to reflect a start date and an end date. Typically, a rental contract is what’s used when you’re only renting a property for a few months. When you sign a lease agreement, it’s often for at least a year – sometimes longer.
After you’ve established the time frame for the lease agreement, specify what happens at the end of the lease term. In some cases, the agreement switches automatically to a month-to-month tenancy. Or, you might require that the tenant signs a renewal or vacates. Indicate how much time is required for notice. It’s typically 60 days.
Putting a renewal process into writing in the lease agreement will help your tenant know what to expect.
Every Lease Needs a Written Rent Collection Policy
You need to collect rent on time, and you don’t want to hear excuses from tenants or claims that they did not know when it was due or how to pay. Your rent collection policy should reflect:
- How much rent is due every month.
- When the rent is due before it’s considered late, including any grace periods.
- Late fees and penalties, up to and including eviction.
- How rent should be paid. Are you accepting online or digital payments? Do you expect a check to be mailed or a payment to be dropped off in person? Offer specific options.
You can refer to the rent collection policy when you’re following up on late rent. You’ll need it if you do pursue an eviction in court.
Security Deposit Language in Santa Rosa Leases
Security deposits must also show up in the lease agreement.
California has some specific rules and regulations around security deposits. There’s a limit to how much you can collect and a timeline for when it needs to be returned to the tenant. The security deposit is always refundable.
Use the lease agreement to record all deposits that the tenant paid, including the security deposit. Reference any pet fees or deposits that were paid, too. The lease should reflect how much was collected, where it’s being held, and what will have to be done at the end of the lease term in order for the tenants to receive a full refund of that deposit.
Establish Maintenance Responsibilities
Use your lease agreement to establish who is responsible for maintenance, upkeep, and cleaning. This will eliminate any confusion with your tenants about what they’re expected to be doing and what they can expect you to take care of. The biggest questions typically revolve around landscaping, especially in a single-family home. Who mows the lawn? Who handles pest control?
The lease should also reflect the process for reporting maintenance needs. You likely want your tenants to call you when there’s an emergency such as a fire or a flood. Routine requests might be received in writing, however, so you can document what’s been requested and what’s been completed.
Include General Rules and Regulations for your Property
The lease should also include a list of rules and regulations that tenants must follow while they are residing at your property. If your rental property is in an HOA or a condo association, you’ll want those rules and regulations to be included as well.
We recommend that every lease agreement includes directions on:
- Pets. Being pet-friendly is a good idea, but you need some restrictions and limitations to protect your investment. You will want to restrict dog breeds, and you might want to limit how many pets a tenant can have, how big those pets are, and what ages are acceptable. Your pet policy should include any pet fees, pet deposits, or pet rent.
- Smoking. Most landlords will agree that a no-smoking policy is the best way to protect the condition and integrity of your home. Any smoking or vaping should be designated for outdoor spaces, and this policy should extend to marijuana as well as tobacco.
- Reasons for entry. Your tenants have a right to privacy and the enjoyment of their home, and you cannot simply enter the property for no reason. An annual safety check might be necessary, and if you’re planning to conduct one, make sure it’s written into the lease. You’ll also want your lease to state that you can enter the property without notice if there’s an emergency.
- All of the HOA rules and regulations that the tenant must follow.
Rental Increases and Rent Control
Any lease agreement signed since 2020 is required to talk about rental increases. Since The Tenant Protection Act of 2019 was passed, landlords are now required to include information on the rent control law in their lease agreements.
You’re legally required to explain whether your property is included or exempt from the statewide rent control restrictions. Your lease must also note how often you can raise the rent and how much notice you’ll provide before the new rent goes into effect.
California Lease Agreements Require Specific Addenda
There are a number of disclosures you must include in your lease. Some are federal laws, such as the lead-based paint disclosure. The state of California also requires disclosures about the sexual predator watch list and mold. Protect yourself with addenda that include fireplaces, swimming pools, mold, bedbugs, lead-based paint, Meghan’s Law, and Prop 65.
What to Avoid In Your Lease
What does not belong in your lease agreement?
- You cannot require tenants to make repairs that aren’t their responsibility.
- You cannot state that the security deposit is non-refundable.
- You cannot write into the lease agreement anything that allows the tenant to not pay rent (for example, the tenant makes minor repairs in exchange for a rent discount).
- You cannot ask tenants to give up their right to respond to an eviction filed against them.
- You cannot say anything that could be perceived as discriminatory.
Every lease agreement in Santa Rosa should include these basic terms. If you’re managing your rental property on your own, it’s worth your resources to have a landlord/tenant attorney or a Santa Rosa property manager review your lease agreement before you and your tenant sign it.
We can help you put together a strong, effective lease. Please contact us at Prestige Real Estate & Property Management. We manage homes in Sonoma County, including Santa Rosa, Windsor, Sebastopol, Petaluma, and Rohnert Park.