Alice, My New Lease Is Illegal

Alice, My New Lease Is Illegal

Ask Alice
Sep 10, 2015
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Allard Laban)

Dear Alice,

I had to move last week, very suddenly without much preparation. I had four days to locate a new apartment and I have a large dog which limited my options. Fortunately, I found a place that will suit my needs, but the lease is very weird. I am a licensed attorney, although I work in insurance and have never practiced law. But I think there are a few clauses in my lease that may not be legal.

Yes, of course I read it in its entirety before signing and I don't foresee any issues, but I feel compelled to point out their mistake, or at least ask whether they've had the lease evaluated by an attorney. For example, the lease provides for automatic renewal at each annual anniversary unless I give sixty days notice. Leases cannot automatically renew, as contracts for an interest in real property must be in writing. This requires a new signed lease document every year.

I have no problem giving sixty days notice - trust me, I'd prefer two months to look for a new place rather than only four days! I haven't even lived here a week so I hesitate to start off on the wrong foot by telling my landlord parts of his lease are unenforceable. I also feel like it's not really my place or responsibility to offer him legal advice. On the other hand, I cannot predict the future. What if this or another seemingly benign, though enforceable clause does become an issue later? Might I be remiss for not warning him of the potential problem? Will you please advise me as to whether my advice is warranted, and if so, the most appropriate way to proceed?

Thank you,
Reluctant Renter

Dear RR,
It's not your responsibility to police the lease simply to benefit your landlord, but you must make absolutely sure that the terms as they are set-forth will work for you. Lease law can be confusing and varies from state to state, so problems sometimes arise when landlords try to use a standardized form that doesn't apply to their area. Or maybe he has had problems in the past and decided to take it upon himself to include new clauses (that are, in fact, unenforcible). Lease terms that conflict with the law will only lead to messiness and maybe security deposit problems later on.
You obviously want things to go smoothly now and forever, so if you're worried that any part of what you signed will come back to bite you in the butt, you should speak up. Or, rather, put it in writing (so there's a record you addressed this issue now at the start of your tenancy). Don't lecture or make it about anyone besides you. It's okay to play dumb a little bit and bring up the irregularities by saying something like, "I thought state law doesn't allow automatic renewals. Can we look into this?" Do it nicely so there's no right or wrong foot, just clarifying information.
Good luck!



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