Signing a Lease

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Types of leases

A lease, or rental agreement, is a contract negotiated and entered into between a landlord and tenant(s). The lease may be written or oral, but it is strongly suggested that any lease or conditions for living in a rental unit should be in writing, in order for everyone to be protected. Once the lease is signed, a landlord/tenant relationship is created for the duration of the lease. Ordinarily, the lease and relationship are governed by the statutory provisions in Chapter 562A of the Iowa Code, known as The Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act; and the City of Ames Chapter 13 Rental Housing Code.

There are two types of rental agreements that can be entered into between a landlord and tenant, which are listed below.

1. Month-to-month lease
With a month-to-month lease, there is no fixed duration that the lease will last. This means that you may occupy a rental unit for one month, six months, or a full year. The tenancy continues until the tenant decides to vacate the unit or the landlord decides to evict the tenant. In order for one of the two previous scenarios to occur, a written notice must be given at least 30 days prior to when the next rent payment is due.

2. Fixed term lease 
This type of rental agreement is for a fixed time frame, such as one year, nine months, or six months. Fixed term leases require the tenant to occupy the unit and pay rent for the fixed term, and requires the landlord to provide the rental unit for the lease duration. The terms agreed to in the lease must also be followed during the fixed term of the lease. For example, landlords are not able to raise rent half-way through the lease, and tenants are not able to terminate the lease before the fixed term is completed. Once the fixed term has ended, the tenant is no longer able to occupy the unit, unless a new rental agreement is signed.

Lease components 

When you are preparing to sign a lease, there are a few items you should look for in the lease. Items such as rent cost, lease duration, security deposit, late fees for rent, subletting possibility, pet restrictions, and any other fees or obligations for the tenant should be included. If when looking over the lease you feel uncomfortable or unsure about a certain clause in the lease, ask the landlord for clarification or seek assistance from a third party. Until you have read and understood the lease, you should not sign any lease.

Additionally, listed below are some common questions that should be answered by the content in the lease agreement.
  • How and when is rent paid?
  • Which utilities are included with rent?
  • Is the rental unit furnished?
  • Is a parking space included, or does parking cost an additional fee?
  • How are maintenance requests submitted?
  • Are you able to paint or make alterations in the rental unit?

To download a sample lease or sublease, please click here.

Deposits and fees

Besides paying for rent, there are other deposits and fees associated with rental housing. These deposits and fees will be listed in your lease, so it’s important to read your lease completely before signing. Listed below are common deposits and fees, which may be included in your lease.

  • Security deposit (not to exceed two months’ rent)
  • Application/screening fee
  • Pet deposit and/or fee
  • Trash collection fee
  • Parking fee
  • Cleaning deposit and/or fee
  • Utilities (the landlord may or may not cover any/all utilities)
  • Utilities security deposit
  • Damage/repair fees
Terminating a lease

Normally, unless there’s a violation of the agreement, neither the landlord nor the tenant can end a rental agreement during its term. For example, in most cases a six month rental agreement cannot be ended until the six months are over. To end a month-to-month agreement, written notice must be given at least 30 days before the next time rent payment is due (not including any grace period). For example, if rent is due on the first of the month, and the landlord gives a notice to end the agreement on the 10th of June, the earliest the tenancy could end would be the 1st of August.