If you're renting for the first time, it's a good idea to make sure your lease agreement is above board and legal. That way, you're protected if something goes wrong. Notarizing a lease means taking it to an official, called a notary public, who verifies your identity, witnesses your signature and marks the lease with a seal. It proves that the landlord and the tenant are who they say they are and neither is being coerced into signing the lease. Whether you need to notarize a lease depends on how long it is — that's the number of months you're renting for, not the number of pages.
Don't Notarize Short-term Leases
While each jurisdiction has its own rules, generally, you don't have to notarize a short-term lease. "Short-term" in this context usually means a lease of one year or less, including lease agreements with no fixed end date that run from month to month. These types of leases are just temporary contracts. Unless your state requires that all contracts are notarized, you don't have to do anything more than sign the agreement.
If It's Longer, Then Maybe
In Washington state, it's a legal requirement that you notarize leases with a term of more than one year. In Ohio, however, you notarize leases that are longer than three years. Other states have similar rules. The reason behind this requirement is that a longer-term lease is no longer simply a contract, but the transfer of an interest in land. The rules can get a bit hazy in some situations, and when figuring out the length of your lease, you'll need to look at the longest possible term. So, if it's a lease for two years with one-year optional extensions that could take the lease beyond three years, then that would have to be notarized in Ohio (and other places too). If in doubt, err on the side of caution and get the lease notarized. It only costs a few dollars and makes sure the lease agreement stands up in court.
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Even if there's no notarizing requirement, your state might have specific rules for signing the lease. In Florida, for example, the landlord must sign in the presence of two witnesses when the lease is for longer than a year. There's no requirement for the tenant's signature to be witnessed because he's not the one who's transferring an interest in land. Where the agreement is not signed properly, the court could decide that it's a defective lease. Depending on the situation, the court might ignore the lease period and imply that you have a tenancy based on the payment schedule. So, if you pay rent monthly, you would have a month-to-month lease.
You Might Have to Record the Lease, Too
In some states, you might have to record the lease after it has been notarized. This generally applies to longer-term leases that are deemed to transfer an interest in land. In Washington state, for example, you have to record a lease agreement exceeding two years in the recorder's office for the county where the property is located. Call the county recorder's office and ask about the rules in your area.