The contract between the landlord and tenant is called a lease. Any contract for the lease of land lasting longer than one year must be in writing to be valid. W.Va. Code §36-1-3. An oral contract can be valid and binding for a lease lasting less than one year. A written lease that sets out all the rights and responsibilities of the landlord and the tenant can minimize several problems such as vagueness of lease terms and the difficulty of proving those terms should a disagreement arise.
Before signing a lease, a tenant should read the lease carefully and understand what it says. It is a good practice to have someone who understands leases to read it over as well. This could be an attorney or someone knowledgeable about leases and lease terms. This is particularly important if the tenant does not understand any of the requirements in the lease.
Once the landlord and tenant sign the lease, they are legally liable for the responsibilities set out in the lease unless the terms of the lease are in violation of state laws. Therefore, it is important that both the landlord and the tenant understand what the lease says or does not say, particularly about the following items:
1. Security deposits
3. Penalties for late rents
4. Conditions surrounding subletting
5. The lease duration, meaning when the lease will become effective and when the lease will terminate
6. Which party will be responsible for making improvements to the property, if any will be made, and which party is responsible for which repairs. See the section on Responsibility for Repairs for more information.
7. Who will be responsible for making and paying for reasonable modifications for tenants with disabilities, and what modifications will be necessary to accommodate the tenant’s disability. See Appendix E for more information on Fair Housing Law and reasonable modifications.
8. Conditions on which the lease may be terminated before the natural end of the lease terms.
9. When, and under what conditions, landlords, or their employees, are permitted to enter the rental unit.
10. How to renew the lease beyond the initial rental period.