A written Alabama residential lease agreement is your best defense, and guarantees that you and your tenants are aware of all the rights and responsibilities in a typical landlord tenant relationship. Notice requirements, penalties for nonpayment of rent and lease violations, security deposit procedures and other conditions of the lease need to be included to avoid disputes and litigation. Although your lease may be oral if its term is one year or less, consider having a written one under all circumstances.
Landlords have an obligation to present and sustain a livable residence, meaning that the landlord has to comply with all housing, health and safety codes, supply hot and cold water, heat, and maintain electrical, plumbing, ventilating and air conditioning systems in place. All major repairs need to be made by the landlord as well unless you specifically list what repairs the tenants must undertake. Tenants have to obey the law, not disturb other tenants, not damage the premises and keep the premises clean, properly dispose of garbage and use appliances appropriately.
As a landlord you cannot disqualify lease applicants or refuse to rent to someone based on their race, color, gender, national ancestry, creed and religion, age in most cases, familial status, sexual orientation or disability under federal and state laws.
You can reject an applicant for poor credit, having a criminal record, a record of prior evictions, poor references, having pets or lying on an application.
Provisions in a Residential Lease
All leases require certain basic terms regarding rent and due dates, security deposits and other matters. The following lease terms should be in your Alabama residential lease agreement:
- Name of landlord and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid as well as where notices and other legal documents may be served and where request for repairs are to be directed
- Names of the tenants and other occupants
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease—weekly, monthly, yearly or other
- Amount of rent, due date, and grace period before a late fee may be imposed—may request prepaid rent
- Returned check fees
- Security deposit—one month’s rent, no interest required, acknowledge receipt, return funds within 35 days of tenant vacating unit or send written statement with specific reasons for withholding it—recommend you have a mutual inspection of the premises shortly after tenant vacates
- Signed, separate statement of the premises’ move-in condition including list of current damages to be given to tenant and signed by tenant after inspecting premises (not required but recommended)
- Obligations of landlord regarding repairs and maintenance and of services provided as indicated above
- Obligations of tenant as noted above including informing landlord if tenant is absent from the premises for at least 2 weeks
- Responsibility for utilities
- Major appliances that are being provided
- No commercial, business or unlawful use of premises by tenant or conduct that constitutes a nuisance
- Pet clause—a deposit may be nonrefundable and is in addition to a security deposit. No deposit is permitted for service animals with some exceptions
- Subletting clause
- Right of entry by landlord to make repairs, inspect and show to future tenants or purchasers or if the tenant has been causing a disturbance or is otherwise violating the lease—2-day notice is required though the landlord may enter immediately if it is an emergency that threatens the safety of tenants
- Notices regarding termination for nonpayment of rent, other lease violations
- Notice for increasing rent—30 days for a monthly lease (may not be for a discriminatory or retaliatory purpose) though you may indicate a shorter period—it is suggested that your tenants be given reasonable notice
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
- Automatic renewal provision unless tenant gives notice to not exercise the option within a certain time before the lease expires (30-days or up to 6 months) but such option may be forfeited at the discretion of the landlord if the tenant is in default or was in default at any time during the tenancy—advise tenant at least 30-days or 6 months in advance of intent to forfeit option based on prior default
Research local ordinances as they may have certain regulations regarding noise, health and safety and discrimination. Different procedures may also apply regarding security deposits and other particular terms.
Prohibited Lease Terms
There are terms that the law forbids a landlord to include in a lease since they take away certain rights, change mandated obligations or are contrary to public policy. These include:
- Waiving the tenant’s right to sue the landlord for breaching the lease
- Waiving the tenant’s right to sue for or receive damages for the landlord’s negligence
- Require more than one month’s rent as security deposit
- Require the tenant to pay for the cost of collecting rent
- Allow the landlord to evict the tenant without a court order
- Allow entry at any time for any purpose
You may not charge more than one-month’s rent as security deposit. The funds need not be deposited in a separate account or interest added for the benefit of the tenant. The deposit is traditionally used to pay for any damages that are more than normal wear and tear though the landlord may use it for unpaid rent when the tenant vacates.
It is not required but is good practice to provide the tenant with a move-in checklist of the condition of the premises and to have the tenant review and sign it shortly after taking possession. This can reduce the likelihood of a dispute over the premises’ condition when the tenant vacates.
As landlord, you have 35-days to return the deposit or provide an itemized statement of the damages and the costs of repair. You should, though not required, allow the tenant and you to mutually inspect the premises for damages and to have the tenant sign off on a check-list, agree to pay the damages without use of the security deposit or have the deposit cover the costs. If you and the tenant disagree, you can either negotiate or litigate the matter in court. Your failure to follow the process for return of the deposit can subject you to damages for twice the amount of the deposit.
Termination of the Lease
Fixed term leases expire on the last day of the lease term and may be renewed by an automatic renewal provision or by accepting the tenant’s rent for the following month so that the lease now becomes a periodic or month-to-month.
For a month-to-month lease, either you or the landlord can terminate the lease without cause if 30-days’ notice is given before the end of the term.
For nonpayment of rent, you must give 7-Day Eviction Notice to Quit and indicate the amount of the rent that is owed. This is also given for other lease violations such as having unauthorized tenants or pets. The tenant is allowed to cure the breach within the 7 days up to 4 times per year, after which the notice is unconditional and the tenant must vacate or face eviction proceedings.
You can also send the notice to quit without allowing the tenant to cure the breach if the tenant was found in possession of, or was using, illegal drugs, unlawfully discharged a firearm or assaulted a guest or other tenant.
Military Duty Exception
Under the Servicemembers’ Civil Relief Act, a tenant may break a lease so long as written notice of at least 30-days is given along with a copy of the deployment or service orders or a signed confirmation from the base commander or other authorized military officer.
No Domestic Violence Exception
Alabama has no domestic violence exception for tenants who are victims of assault, stalking or abuse and who fear for their safety if they remain on the premises.
No Deduct and Repair Remedy
Alabama does not allow tenants to withhold rent or to deduct from the rent to perform repairs that the landlord was requested to do but failed. However, if the landlord fails to provide a habitable residence by not making requested major repairs, then the tenant may submit a 14-Day Notice to the landlord of the tenant’s intention to terminate the lease if the repairs are not completed within that time and that the full security deposit be returned with no further obligations by the tenant.
An Alabama residential lease agreement is an enforceable contract but which can be complicated and present problems if certain provisions are not included or if they are contrary to law. Standard leases do not always comport with current law and may not include certain provisions that you will want in your lease. Contact an Alabama landlord/tenant attorney if you have questions or concerns about your lease or your and your tenants’ duties and obligations under state and federal laws and local ordinances.