Do I have to hire a lawyer to draft apartment rental agreements and tenant applications?


I have a four- unit apartment building that I just purchased as an investment property. I am planning on renting out all four units. Do I need to hire a lawyer to draft an Apartment Rental Agreement and tenant-screening application? I live in California.


You don't necessarily need to hire a lawyer, but you do need to make sure that whatever forms you use comply with California landlord-tenant law. For example:

  • California state law limits credit check or application fees you can charge perspective tenants (it's $30, adjusted for inflation each year) and specifies what you must do when accepting these kinds of fees. California landlords are legally obligated to make several disclosures to prospective tenants (for example, regarding shared utility arrangements), and these are often part of the application itself.
  • California state law is very specific when it comes to typical lease and rental agreement terms, such as the amount of the security deposit (it's two or three months, depending on whether the rental property is furnished), and notice required to end a tenancy (it's 30 days, with some exceptions--for example, you'll need to give 60 days notice to end a tenancy that's lasted a year or more).

The rules are even more complicated if your rental property is in a California city with rent control. Fortunately, you're in luck: The Nolo book The California Landlord's Law Book: Rights & Responsibilities, provides the essential legal forms (including rental applications and leases and rental agreements) and information you need to rent out your apartments and manage your property.

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