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This useful guide helps landlords with lease agreements for residential properties located in Alabama. The Code of Alabama has the Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act. This is the state law governing leases for residential properties such as apartments, condominiums, homes, townhouses, manufactured homes, mobile homes, ranch homes, cabins, and other dwellings where people live.
This guide covers many of the common things found in residential lease agreements. It gives choices of optional legal clauses that may be included as part of the lease terms and conditions. Not all clauses apply to all circumstances.
What is a Residential Lease Agreement?
A residential lease is a legally binding agreement between a landlord and a tenant who intends to rent a specific property. It is an all-inclusive document created to outline the expectations of both parties and address any special circumstances that may arise during the length of the agreement. It also clearly states the potential consequences for not adhering to the stated terms. For maximum legal credibility, it is critical that this document be produced in writing, reviewed and signed by both parties prior to occupancy.
Alabama’s Residential Lease Laws
In January 2008, the Alabama laws changed to provide a basic structure under the Code of Alabama. This basic structure includes clauses that apply to all residential leases for properties located within the state, regardless of whether the clause is actually included in the lease. The Alabama laws cover many things that do not have to be included in a residential lease but nevertheless must be followed.
This law is found in Code of Alabama Title 35, Chapter 9A and contains the following sections:
- Article 1: This section includes general information about the state laws and the definitions of legal terms.
- Article 2: This section includes the obligations of landlords.
- Article 3: This section includes the obligations of tenants.
- Article 4: This section include the remedies for tenants, the remedies for landlords, periodic tenancy, access abuse, and the court actions that can be taken by landlords including eviction, suing for damages, and injunctive relief.
- Article 5: This section includes the laws about retaliatory conduct.
- Article 6: This section covers the topics of the effective date, old contracts made before 2007, and severability.
Highlights of the Alabama State Law
Alabama is a landlord-friendly state. The only required disclosure is about lead paint hazards for properties built before 1978.
Only one month’s rent can be requested for a security deposit except for pets and special risky circumstances. Interest does not have to be paid on any security deposits held by a landlord and the funds can be commingled with other landlord funds. Tenants can sue a landlord in small claims court for the return of the security deposit if not refunded within 35 days after the tenant vacates the rental unit and leaves it in a good condition.
Landlords must give a tenant 30 days advance notice in writing before raising the rent and seven days for a late rent payment before beginning an eviction procedure. Tenants cannot withhold rent to pay for repairs.
If a tenant is involved in drug-related crime, found in possession of illegal drugs or trying to sell them or assaults another tenant, the landlord need only give seven days notice to start eviction proceedings. Other evictions for damage to the rental unit etc. need to have 14 days notice before the landlord can begin the eviction proceedings.
Under federal law, housing discrimination by a landlord is prohibited. A landlord may not discriminate based on a person’s race, the color of their skin, their national origin, their religion, their gender, family status or if a person has a disability. A landlord’s retaliation against a tenant or potential tenant for making a discrimination complaint is also prohibited.
In any landlord/tenant legal dispute, it is important to seek out competent legal counsel for advice and possible representation. It is helpful to read and understand the state laws in the Code of Alabama to be better informed.
Prohibited Clauses in Residential Lease Agreements
The Alabama law has some specific prohibitions of things that cannot be included in a lease. These clauses are void if they appear in any lease made after January 1, 2007, or one that started before that and continued into 2007 or beyond.
Additionally, any landlord who knowingly uses such prohibited clauses in a residential lease agreement made after January 1, 2008 may be the subject of a legal action by a tenant or a prospective tenant under the rules of the Residential Landlord and Tenant Act found in the Code of Alabama section 35-9A-163 (the “ACT”).
The Alabama Association of REALTORS® says that these prohibitions for things that cannot be in a lease agreement include the following:
- Waiver of Tenant’s Rights/Remedies: The lease agreement cannot include any legal language that waives a tenant’s rights or remedies. This includes things that are the landlord’s responsibilities such as compliance with the rules of the ACT. It also includes failure that is “wrongful” for the landlord to provide water, heat, hot water, and essential services. Wrongful means that the failure is done on purpose by the landlord and not caused by something beyond the landlord’s control, such as a system breakdown, emergency, or a natural disaster.
- Confessing a Judgment: The lease agreement cannot include any legal language that causes a tenant to confess a judgment on a claim that may arise from a lease. Confessing a judgment in a contract allows one party to enter a judgment of a specific amount of money, against the other party to the agreement, without having to go through a court proceeding. This is not allowed in a residential lease agreement in Alabama.
- Landlord Legal Fees and Costs: The lease agreement cannot include any legal language that the tenant agrees to pay the attorney fees of the landlord and/or the cost of collections.
- Limitation of Landlord Liability: The lease agreement cannot include any legal language that the tenant agrees to a limitation of the landlord’s liability or indemnification of the landlord’s liability and any costs associated with this liability.
After understanding what legal language cannot be included in the lease agreement, the idea is to follow the basic agreement structure outlined below. Then, add any of the optional clauses that are appropriate for a specific lease agreement. Under Alabama law, the parts of the legal language found in the ACT do not have to be specifically included in the written lease agreement. These clauses are included by reference even when they are not specifically stated.
Landlords have the option to use a short-form lease agreement that does not restate the statutory provisions that already exist under the law. The landlord still must follow all the specifics of the law.
The best practices are to use a long-form agreement approach, which includes the legal language that repeats what is in the existing state law. Many landlords find this to be useful way to inform and educate the tenants especially about the landlord’s remedies in relations to a tenant’s rights under the law.
This guide is meant to be somewhat comprehensive; however, each situation may be slightly different. Some circumstances require things that may not be found in this guide. Use good judgment and consult with an attorney as necessary.
Writing a Residential Lease Agreement in Alabama
Here are the clauses that create the basic format of the Alabama residential lease. This is a nice checklist of the information and clauses that should be included in all residential leases for the contract to be comprehensive.
- Tenant(s), Landlord, Landlord’s Agent or Property Manager (if any): These are names of the parties to the agreement.
- Effective Date: This is the date that the lease agreement starts and the tenant is allowed to occupy the property.
- Applicable Law: Notice is given that the contract is governed by the Alabama Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act.
- Location: Location of the rental unit includes the county, city, street address, and apartment number (if applicable).
- Legal Description: This is the how the property is described in the recorded title deed for the property where the rental unit is located.
- Lead Paint: This is the required legal disclosure for the potential hazard of lead paint that applies to rental properties built before 1978. In addition to including this warning, tenants must be given a copy of the brochure published by the Environmental Protection Agency called Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.
- Rental Application: The tenant verifies that the information submitted in the rental application is true. The rental application is a separate document included in the lease contract by being attached to the lease agreement.
- Rent: This clause states the monthly rent, the day of the month that the rent is due, and where and to whom the rent payments are to be made.
- Prorated Rent: This is the daily amount of rent that is used for calculation of the rent required for a partial month. The calculation is made by taking the monthly rent times 12 and dividing by 365 days.
- Late Fee(s): This describes the amount of late fee(s) and when they are charged for past due rent.
- Occupants: This states the number and the names of authorized occupants.
- Bad Checks: These are the fees charged for rent payments made by a check that is dishonored by the bank.
- Renewal: These are the terms of renewal of the lease after the initial term expires.
- Sublease: This includes any restrictions on the ability of the tenant(s) to sublease the rental unit to other parties.
- Utilities: This clause has a description of utilities provided by the landlord and those that are the responsibility of the tenant(s).
- Tenant Obligations: These are the tenant’s legal obligations under the state law. These include not disturbing the peace or participating in criminal activities. Also, included in this clause are any maintenance requirements that are the responsibility of the tenant. For example, tenant obligations may include keeping drains clear, changing light bulbs, and other minor maintenance. The tenant is obligated to inform the landlord of the need for emergency repairs or major repairs.
- No Deductions from Rent: This provision informs the tenant that major repairs must be approved in writing by the landlord prior to being made and that repair costs cannot be deducted from rent payments.
- Landlord Obligations: This clause includes the landlord’s obligations under state law to provide essential services, deal with emergencies, and make repairs to keep the required systems in a good and safe working condition. It also states the general maintenance requirements that are the landlord’s responsibility.
- Appliances and Furniture Inventory: This is a list of the appliances, furniture and other items provided by the landlord for the rental unit.
- Insurance: This clause describes the requirements for the landlord to have property insurance and the tenant’s responsibility for having insurance to cover their personal property.
- Access: This states the ability for the landlord to have access to the property by giving at least 48 hours prior notice in writing. It also prohibits the landlord from entering the rental unit without giving notice or having permission from the tenant except in the case of an emergency.
- Damaged Premise: This provision covers what happens if the premise is damaged through no fault of the tenant or if the rental unit is condemned because it is unusable after a disaster.
- Abandonment: If the tenant abandons the property without giving written notice to the landlord, this provision allows the landlord to terminate the lease agreement.
- Security Deposit: Under Alabama law, the maximum security deposit allowed is one month’s rent, except for additional security deposits that may be charged for pets and for using the rental unit in a way that might increase liability for the landlord. Alabama law also requires the return of the security deposit within 35 days after the rental unit is vacated by the tenant and is left in a good condition.
- Failure to Pay Rent or Causing Damage to the Premises: These are the provisions about what happens if a tenant fails to pay rent or damages the premises. It describes the eviction proceedings. It includes the provisions about terminating the lease agreement and the ability for the landlord to sue an evicted tenant for the recovery of the cost of actual damages.
- Prohibited Items: This is a list of things that cannot be kept in the rental unit such as a waterbed. It also may prohibit things that might be installed on the rental unit such as a large satellite dish unless the landlord gives specific written permission.
- Waiver: The tenant agrees to waive the defense of the failure of the landlord to provide essential services in an action for possession (eviction) made by the landlord, if the landlord was not given written notice by the tenant of the need to make any repairs or take action to provide essential services.
- Subordination: The tenant agrees that the tenant’s rights are subject to the terms and conditions of any underlying mortgage or financing on the property.
- Rent Increases: This states that the rent amount may increase upon certain circumstances such as lease termination/renewal and that the tenant will get a 30 days advance written notice that a rental increase will occur.
- Joint Responsibility: This states that if there is more than one tenant, each one will have joint and severable (individual) responsibility for the terms of the lease agreement.
- Contact Information: This section gives the contact information for the tenant(s), landlord, and the landlord’s agent or property manager (if any).
- Fax and Email Communication: This clause allows fax and emails to be used as a form for notices and written communications.
- Megan’s Law: This disclaims any responsibility for the landlord or the landlord’s agent or property manager (if any) to provide any information to the tenant about sex offenders living in the vicinity of the rental unit. The tenant agrees to seek out the information from the public Alabama Sex Offender Registry if the tenant desires to know this information.
- Binding: This clause has the standard legal language that the agreement is binding on any successors or assigns of the landlord or tenant.
- General Provisions: This states that the written lease agreement is the entire agreement and that there is no reliance by either party on anything that is not contained in the written agreement.
- Signatures: This section has the signatures of all the parties to the agreement and witnesses to the signatures.
Here are some additional clauses to consider depending on the circumstances. Custom clauses may need to be created if the property or the lease agreement has terms and conditions not described in this guide. Seek legal counsel from a competent real estate attorney for help with major modifications to this basic structure of the lease agreement and for help with additional clauses.
- Pets: This clause covers the allowed types of pets, the number of pets allowed, and the specifics about any additional pet deposits required.
- Additional Tenant Obligations: If the rental unit is a house, the tenant’s obligations may include being responsible for landscaping and property maintenance.
- Military: This special provision gives any U.S. military service member the option to terminate a lease with 30 day’s notice, without penalty, if the service member is called up for active duty or transferred to another location by military orders.
- Rules for Common Areas: If the rental unit has access to common areas, such as a shared swimming pool, this section gives the rules and regulations about the use of common areas.
Follow this guide and be careful not to have any clauses that are prohibited under Alabama law. Avoid practices prohibited by federal law such as discrimination. Landlords who do this will be able to have a clear lease agreement document that protects all the parties.