I recently took over a landlord/tenant case representing the landlord with substantial damage to the property when the tenant left. The landlord had drafted the lease using a document he found online. When we reviewed his evidence, I discovered the following weaknesses:
- The lease did not contain a provision allowing for landlord’s attorney’s fees to be collected from the tenant if the tenant breached the lease. Virginia law requires this contract provision in a lease in order to be reimbursed for attorney’s fees, and judges will not grant attorney’s fees without it. The best practice is to include a provision in a lease for the prevailing party to be reimbursed for his or her attorney’s fees.
- The last page of the lease called for any defects to be listed by the tenant at the time of the initial walkthrough. That list was blank and that page had not been initialed, leaving the door open for the tenant to claim that the blank page was not part of the lease he signed. A better practice is to write “None “on the page asking for move-in defects and have the tenant sign that page.
- The landlord had not taken photographs of the property before the tenant moved in, and the tenant disputed the condition of the property at move-in. A better practice is to take photographs showing the condition at the time of rental.
- Finally, the tenant claimed that he had never been given a copy of the lease he signed. A landlord should have an extra copy of the lease to give to the tenant and a place on the lease for the tenant to sign that he received it.
Practice Point: Although documenting the condition of the property at move-in may look like an extra detail, it will provide the landlord with the evidence he needs if a dispute should arise, and will be time well spent.