Double Check Your Real Estate Forms
It is common for landlords, especially those who choose not to utilize the services of an attorney, to use standard mass-produced lease forms when leasing property to a tenant. These forms are usually found online and downloaded, with some landlords not updating their business practices from one year to the next. Unfortunately, this can lead to big problems for the landlord.
A 2013 case* from North Carolina highlights the trouble with using some of the leasing forms found online. In this case, the landlord was sued by the state Attorney General over violations concerning the way he handled security deposits. The landlord was simply following the security deposit provisions set forth by the lease agreement form he downloaded from a realtor’s website. Unaware that the law regarding security deposits had changed since the form’s creation, he was entering into lease agreements that violated the law and handling deposits incorrectly.
The Attorney General sought a 5,000-dollar penalty for each of the landlord’s leasing violations. It’s easy to see how one form could be reproduced and used several times, causing a significant problem for landlords making a simple error in judgment.
Since ignorance of the law is not seen as a valid excuse in court, the best course of action is to either avoid use of these online forms or double check them to be sure they are consistent with current California law. Several provisions directly affecting leasing practice have been revised dramatically by the California legislature over the past few years. Since real estate law may change after a form is posted online, landlords who utilize them can unknowingly follow out-of-date leasing procedures. It’s best to consult with a real estate attorney before using any type of leasing form, just to be certain the form is up to date or if you have questions regarding specific provisions of a lease.
If a particular form is found to be consistent with the law, it can be reproduced and used so long as California real estate laws do not change. The best course of action is to have all forms examined by a real estate attorney periodically so that business practices can be updated as needed.