Written Leases Preferred in Louisiana
A Louisiana residential lease agreement may be oral or in writing but should your lease be an oral one and you find yourself quarreling with your tenant over certain terms, it may be difficult if not impossible to prove your position. In all cases where you rent a unit or residential premises, carefully draft an agreement so that all parties are aware of their responsibilities and that notices and other procedures are thoroughly delineated.
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Leases are either fixed term–usually for one year–or month-to-month. Different rules regarding notice to terminate apply to the type of lease you have. Automatic renewal clauses, if included, can be included in a fixed term lease with some precautions.
Landlords have certain obligations to tenants that may not be waived or significantly altered. The main duty for a Louisiana landlord is to deliver and maintain the leased premises in a good condition for its leased purpose. This includes making major repairs for conditions that threaten the safety or health of the tenant. Tenants have a duty to abide by the lease, obey the law, not damage or alter the premises, allow reasonable entry by the landlord to make repairs, and inform the landlord if such repairs are needed.
Louisiana law prohibits you from refusing to rent to persons, or to treat tenants differently, on the basis of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, familial status or disability.
Necessary Lease Provisions
Although there are few required provisions in a Louisiana residential lease agreement, you should consider having one that is comprehensive so that your tenant fully understands the terms and you both have a written, enforceable agreement to review in case certain circumstances arise or your tenant feels unsure about certain procedures.
Consider the following provisions to include in your Louisiana lease:
- Name of landlord and property manager who is authorized to manage the property, address where rent is to be paid 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 (provide the amount of the late fee amount but it must be reasonable)–you may request prepaid rent of your tenant at the beginning of the tenancy
- Returned check fees—state amount
- Security deposit—no limit, no interest required, no acknowledgement of receipt; return funds within 30-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 before or 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
- 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 request for a fee may be nonrefundable if it is a “pet fee” and not a pet deposit
- 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—no notice is required but you should consider giving reasonable notice such as 24-hours though you 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 (such as 30-days) but you may choose to terminate the lease by giving notice to the tenant according to your notice provision, which may be 30-days before the lease expires
You may not include certain terms in your lease that are contrary to law or public policy or alter certain responsibilities mandated under the law. These include:
- Waiver of right to sue landlord for neglecting duties or obligations under law
- Taking a lien or security interest on the tenant’s personal property
- Prohibiting tenant from joining a tenant’s union
- Terminating the lease without a court order
- Waiver of any section of the law regarding security deposits
- Requiring tenant to vacate if a victim of domestic violence
Louisiana Security Deposits
State law regarding security deposits place no limit on what you can charge, that you need not give a receipt to the tenant and that you do not have to place it in an interest bearing account for the tenant’s benefit. You do have to return the deposit in full within 30-days after the tenant vacates and leaves you with a forwarding address or submit an itemized statement of the damages and the cos within this time.
Though not mandated, you should consider allowing the tenant to inspect the unit with you during the last week of the tenancy and review any damages. Having had a move-in checklist at the beginning of the tenancy is a benefit to both of you.
Do not include a provision for automatic cleaning as it is probably unenforceable. Instead, you could require the tenant to clean certain areas, like the rugs, or that the unit be in the same or similar condition when rented or you will deduct for cleaning from the security deposit.
If you fail to follow this procedure regarding return or withholding of the security deposit, you can be liable to the tenant for actual damages sustained by the tenant or $200, whichever is greater, along with court costs and attorneys’ fees.
Termination of the Lease
Fixed term leases expire of their own accord. If you want an automatic renewal provision, include a time (usually 30-days) by which the tenant must advise you of whether to exercise the option and remind the tenant of the renewal option before the option time. You can also terminate the lease by advising the tenant within the same time that you wish for the tenant to vacate or that a new lease will have to be signed. Unless you give notice within the time you allot in the lease, all the lease terms will continue to apply including the rent though you can give a 10-day notice before the end of the monthly period of a rent increase once the monthly lease begins.
If you do not have an automatic renewal clause and the tenant remains in the unit for one week, then it becomes a month-to-month lease and all the lease terms continue to apply. If you wish to change the lease terms, you must give 10-days’ notice before the end of the monthly period.
For a yearly lease, with no end date, give 30-days’ written notice before the end of the year. For a month-to-month lease, both of you must give the other 10-days’ notice to terminate the lease. A weekly lease requires 5-day notice to terminate.
For non-payment of rent or for any other lease violations, you must serve a 5-day written notice although you can have either a shorter notice period or no notice period at all so long as you include it in your lease, though you may want your tenant to have some time to either come up with the rent or cure another lease term violation. There is no statute regarding weekly leases so any notice or no notice is valid. You can also state that any illegal activity such as use or possession of illegal drugs, being a chronic nuisance to other tenants, having substantially damaged the premises or having used the premises for commercial activity will automatically terminate the lease with no opportunity to cure the violation.
Military Service Exception
Under the Servicemembers Relief Act, a tenant who is a member of the Armed Forces can terminate a lease early if the tenant receives deployment orders to move more than 35 miles from the premises for more than 90 days and a copy of the orders is given to the landlord. This also applies if the tenant is ordered to reside in government-supplied quarters. The tenant is required to give 30-days’ notice if practical and to pay for the remainder of that month’s rent but with no further obligations under the lease.
Domestic Violence Exception
Victims of domestic violence may terminate a lease early without penalty so long as they can produce an order of protection or other legal document evidencing the circumstances and are in imminent threat from the abuser. A landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone who is a victim but may terminate the lease of a perpetrator or abuser. If one tenant has abused the other, you can have the abuser tenant vacate the unit but not the victim tenant.
Repair and Deduct Rules in Louisiana
A tenant may deduct from the rent the reasonable costs of repairs if necessary repairs were requested of the landlord who neglected to perform them after being given written notice and a reasonable time to do them.
Should the premises become unlivable because of the lack of heat or air conditioning or some other condition and the landlord has not remedied the condition despite a request and a reasonable time to repair, then the tenant could to file a dispute with the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General’s office.
Otherwise, if the condition is serious and you as landlord did not perform any of the repairs and the tenant can prove you had notice, then the tenant can terminate the lease with no further obligations.
Louisiana residential lease agreements should be comprehensive and can include certain terms and provisions to your benefit. So long as your terms are reasonable and comply with state and federal law, your entire lease agreement is enforceable and is evidence of your contractual arrangement with your tenants. If you have any questions or concerns about your responsibilities or those of your tenants, contact a Louisiana landlord/tenant attorney.