Rental contract laws are typically governed by each state's legislative body. However, federal law does prescribe some minimal anti-discrimination behavior by landlords. Rental agreements must be in writing, as most jurisdictions refuse to recognize oral rental contracts.
Rental contracts should include essential terms of the rental agreement, including the monthly amount due, the length of the rental tenancy, security deposits and escrow accounts. The agreement must outline each party's duties (References 1).
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Landlords are responsible for the duty to maintain a habitable property which is free from dangerous defects. Landlords should include any state-specific requirements for rental leases in the agreement, including limits and procedures regarding security deposits.
The tenant's duties should also be spelled out to include its responsibility, if any, to repair every day items, such as lights or maintaining certain landscaping (References 1).
The landlord may include which penalties are assessed for rental checks that are returned for insufficient fees and the fees assessed for late rent payments, including the specific date the fees begin to accrue (References 1).
The landlord and tenant may both consider the method of initial inspection to list existing property conditions and which items the tenant must replace or clean upon terminating the rental agreement (References 2).
The agreement should provide an inventory of items within the home prior to the rental term. For instance, if the unit includes an installed microwave oven, the contract should probably state that it should not be removed in order for there to be little room for disagreement as to what the tenant is allowed to remove and take upon leaving the premises (References 2).
Since this is general information for educational purposes and laws may change frequently, the information should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state.