Entering and signing a lease
Authored By: Southeast Louisiana Legal Services (New Orleans office)
FAQs about Leases in Louisiana
What is a lease? +
A lease is a contract or agreement between a landlord and a tenant. It can be written or oral. A lease is important since it controls your rights as a tenant. Always keep a copy of the lease for your records.
A lease usually lists how long you can live there, the amount of rent, when the rent is due and who must make repairs. Most leases contain much more than this. Read the other conditions carefully and understand them before you sign.
If you sign a lease, be aware that it sets out the rules that you and your landlord agree to follow. For example, it will probably say whether the landlord can evict you before the lease ends, what reasons he must have, and what kind of notice he must give you. If the landlord tries to evict you or sues you for money, a judge will look at the lease to decide the case.
Pay special attention to any lease clause that talks about repairs. Landlords often try to stick tenants with repairs that are really the landlord's responsibility.
You should also pay special attention to how much notice you are expected to give if you don’t plan on renewing your lease. Do not assume your lease says 30 days. Some leases require more than 30 days’ notice, and if you fail to give that notice your lease will automatically renew, and/or your landlord can charge you rent after you move out.
If something in the lease is grossly unfair to you, a judge may say that it cannot be used against you. But, usually your rights depend on what the lease says. So, before you sign a lease that has unfair rules, you should decide whether you can live with those rules.
What if my lease doesn't say anything about the kind of issue I'm having? +
Louisiana landlord-tenant law will decide most cases if the lease says nothing about your issue or problem. Many of the landlord-tenant laws are found in articles 2668 to 2729 of the Louisiana Civil Code.
I only have an oral lease. Do I have any rights? +
If you rent without a written lease, this usually means that you are a "month-to-month" tenant or renter.
This means that the landlord can evict you for no reason by giving you 10 days' written notice before the end of the current rental month. The landlord can also raise your rent by giving you 10 days' notice before the next month's rent is due. Even though you do not have a written lease your landlord must still go through the court process to evict you.
Sometimes, you may have an agreement with the landlord that he must give you more than 10 days' notice. But such agreements are difficult to prove.
A tenant with an oral lease may have the right to stay longer if there is a specific agreement that the lease is for a certain period of time. But the tenant must prove the agreement. If it is your word against the landlord's word, the judge will usually side with your landlord. If you want the protection of a longer lease term, get it in writing!
What if I stay in a hotel or motel, do I have any rights? +
What if I stay in a rooming house? +
This is a gray area of the law. If the owner acts like a motel by keeping control of the rooms, then you are probably not a tenant. For example, the owner:
- provides clean sheets;
- cleans your room;
- signs guests in and out of a guest registry.
If the owner does not do these things, then he is probably a landlord, and you may have tenant's rights.
What if the apartment needs repairs? +
It is very difficult to get a bad landlord to make repairs after you have moved in. You may want to look for another apartment. If you still want the apartment, you should:
- Make a list of problems and defects in the apartment. Try to get the landlord to sign your list. If your landlord won’t sign, send the list to your landlord in a manner that proves that it was sent- for example certified mail, an email, or a text message. Take pictures of defects or needed repairs when you move in. Download an app on your phone that time-stamps pictures so you can prove when they were taken. These actions will help protect you when it is time to move out.
- If something is important to you, get it in writing. Don't count on your landlord just saying that he will make repairs (oral or verbal promise). If the apartment needs repairs ask the landlord to sign an agreement that he will make the repairs.
- If your lease packet comes with a move-in checklist, be sure to fill it out and turn it in within the time period specified (usually 24-72 hours after move-in). Keep a copy for yourself or take a picture on your phone. Check the apartment carefully and take time to fill out the checklist completely. Anything that you do not note on the checklist could be blamed on you when you move out.
What if the landlord asks me to sign a lease? +
Read the lease carefully before you sign. Ask about anything you don't understand. Before you sign, be sure you understand who must pay for repairs. Make sure the lease describes any repairs that the landlord has promised to make. Make sure you understand how much notice is required if you want to move at the end of your lease- do not assume it is 30 days. If there is a chance that you may need to move before the end of the lease, ask for language in the lease that lets you get out of the lease before the end of the lease (an early termination clause).
Must the landlord tell me if the apartment has lead-based paint? +
Yes, in many cases. Federal law requires that most landlords who rent apartments built before 1978 tell you about lead-based paint and paint hazards in the home and make available reports on lead present in the home. If you live in subsidized housing there are special requirements and more protections. If your child tests positive for high lead levels and you suspect that it is due to peeling lead paint in your apartment, you should talk to a lawyer.
What kind of records should I keep? +
Get something to keep your records in. Keep these things in your file:
· Your lease or rental agreement.
· Security deposit receipt.
· List of things wrong with apartment.
· Rent receipts or canceled checks.
· Landlord's address and phone number.
Warning: Do not wait for your landlord to give you copies of documents you sign. If he does not give you a copy on the spot, take a picture with your phone so you have a record. You can also download an app on your phone that scans the document to pdf.
What should I do while viewing a potential apartment or rental residence? +
Check the apartment or house very carefully. When you are shown the place, test these things out:
· Make sure that the electric, gas and water services are all on and working.
· Turn on any lights, fans, and other electric fixtures that come with the place to make sure they work.
· Make sure the plumbing works: flush the toilets, turn on the water in the sinks, bathtubs and showers and make sure the water drains and does not leak all over the floor.
· If the apartment comes with a stove, refrigerator or other appliances, make sure they work.
· Turn on the heat and the air conditioning and make sure these systems work.
· Make sure the windows have screens.
· Make sure the doors and windows are not broken and lock properly.
· Make sure the windows open.
· Check out the bathroom and kitchen for leaks, insects, rats, other pests, or signs of them.
· Check walls and ceilings for water stains or signs of leaks.
· Look for mold growth.
Ask other tenants whether they are happy with the building and the apartments they are renting there.
Check the neighborhood during the day and at night. Will you feel safe there?
Find out who pays for utilities like electricity, gas and water.
If you must pay these bills, ask if your apartment has separate meters for any utilities you pay for.
Ask about parking for tenants.
Warning: Do not sign a lease or pay a deposit without seeing the apartment you are going to rent! Some apartment complexes want to show you a “model” apartment but not the apartment you are going to rent. Then they want you to put down a security deposit and sign a lease to “secure” the apartment without actually seeing it. This puts you in a tough position if the actual apartment is not in good shape, or does not have the same features as the model, because you might be stuck in a lease and unable to get your deposit back.
What happens when my lease expires? +
If your lease has a "renewal clause":
After expiration, the terms of a one-year lease may automatically renew if there is a "renewal clause" and neither the tenant or landlord provides notice to end the lease. That means that an expired lease will automatically renew unless the tenant or landlord explicitly ends it.
A "renewal clause" may renew the lease for the same length of time as the original lease agreement. You should check your lease to see if there is a "renewal clause." If your lease is renewed, all the terms of the original lease, like rent, are extended and continue to apply.
If your lease does not cover what happens at expiration:
If the lease does not cover what happens at expiration, the lease will end on the termination date and the tenant may be evicted. But if neither the landlord nor the tenant give notice of their intent to end the lease, and the tenant continues to live on the leased premises for one week after the lease expires, the lease may be "reconducted".
The lease will automatically renew, on a month-to-month basis. Under this scenario, the terms of the original lease continue to apply. To change the terms, including the landlord removing the tenant, either party must provide 10-days written notice of the change/termination (the lease may require 30-days notice to make any changes).
For more information, see this page about Lease Expiration and Reconduction.