What to look for in a lease agreement
Summit County has a strong rental market. Here’s what tenants and landlords should look for in an agreement
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Ciancio in the law firm Ciancio Ciancio Brown.
Summit County is in a real estate boom, and a large majority of the homes sold just this year are going to people living on the Front Range or out of state, according to data from Land Title Guarantee Co.’s April report.
Some of these buyers are undoubtedly people who plan to use their new properties for only a portion of the year, meaning owners might turn these homes and condos into short- or — if it makes sense — long-term rentals.
To do this, property owners should think about drafting a lease agreement intended to protect both parties.
“It protects both parties in different scenarios and also gives both parties a clear road map to follow,” said Leslee Balten, partner at Ciancio Ciancio Brown law firm in Breckenridge.
Balten and Ehren Penix, attorney at Hartshorn Law Office in Fairplay, weigh in on what to think about before getting started.
Lease agreements 101
“The first and most important thing is that you always want to get a written lease,” Penix said.
Penix explained that in Colorado, by law, written lease agreements are only needed for leases of more than a year but that it’s still a good idea to have something written for shorter terms, too. Penix noted that many short-term rental companies, like VRBO and Airbnb, will have lease agreements built into the platform already. This is to protect not only landlords but also tenants.
“The same thing with a tenant,” Penix said. “Tenants have rights and responsibilities, but trying to enforce those rights in a court when you don’t actually have a written lease can sometimes be problematic.”
What landlords should think about
Before moving forward with renting out your property, Penix said it’s important for landlords to check in with local guidelines as well as their homeowner association to ensure there are no restrictions in place barring them from moving forward.
Penix also said landlords should understand that they cannot discriminate under the law.
“Landlords should also be aware that they can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin — all those sorts of things,” Penix said. “It’s unlawful in Colorado to refuse to rent or lease to any person because of those things.”
In addition, Penix recommends that landlords be very clear about what areas they are allowing tenants access to and what areas are off-limits.
Balten said other items she’d make explicit in the lease include having understandable rental terms regarding payment and security deposit provisions as well as who is responsible for utilities.
Additionally, Penix suggests landlords be transparent about how they want to be paid and when, as well as disclose that lead-based paints were likely used if the rental property was built in 1978 or before.
What tenants should think about
On the flip side, Penix said tenants should examine much of the same measures. First and foremost, Penix recommends tenants spend some time with the lease agreement to make sure they understand all terms and conditions.
“If you’re going to be living there for a year, or even less than a year … take a couple hours,” Penix said. “Read that thing over. Make sure you understand exactly what you’re getting into. If there’s something in there that you’re not comfortable with, you can always bring it up to the landlord and see if you can work with it.”
Penix said tenants should have complete understanding of what areas they have access to, such as common areas like kitchens or sheds. This is especially relevant in communal living areas.
Balten recommends tenants should understand the terms occurring at the beginning and end of their lease, too.
“It’s also important tenants are clear about the obligations on the lease, like what they’re paying and that the move-in, move-out maintenance provisions — things like that — are clear so they know what their requirements are,” Balten said.
What about evictions?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s eviction moratorium expired at the end of July, but a few days later, it was extended through Oct. 3 in areas “experiencing substantial and high levels of community transmission levels.”
When the moratorium finally ends, many who have suffered from financial hardships due to the pandemic will no longer be protected from getting evicted.
Penix said he recommends that both parties consult with an attorney if and when an eviction or other legal disagreement occurs.
“(Bringing) in a lawyer as soon as possible is the best thing to do,” he said. “It depends on the scope of the disagreement. Obviously, if somebody is coming to you as a landlord and saying that they are not going to pay their rent because of this, that and the other thing, then it’s worthwhile for you to at least consult with an attorney who may be able to sort out whether or not there is an actual claim that they can make or whether it’s completely inappropriate for them to be withholding rent, as is often the case.
“If you’re a tenant and your landlord says he’s going to evict you, then you obviously have quite a large problem in your life. Housing is a necessity and, again, it’s worthwhile to consult with an attorney at the very least to determine what your rights and remedies might be and see if something can be worked out instead of proceeding to court action.”
Penix noted the eviction process can be tricky to navigate and that it would be in both landlords’ and tenants’ best interests to work with an attorney.
“The eviction process is not the most difficult thing in the world, and a lot of landlords like to think that they can deal with that on their own, but it can be complicated,” he said. “There can be pitfalls and areas in which an inexperienced person can find themselves at a disadvantage without the right counsel. I would say for both of those people — landlords and tenants — there’s a need to at least consult with legal counsel if not just outright hire legal counsel to help you out with the situation.”
This story previously published in the August/September edition of Summit County Home magazine.
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