DIY Leases Have Consequences

A homeowner may decide to paint the interior of her home herself instead of hiring a contractor to do the work.  However, most would avoid Do-It-Yourself electrical work due to fear of being shocked or because of lack of know how.
The same is often true in the legal arena.  With the advent of the Internet, many landlords will download and use lease forms in renting their buildings and apartments, and avoid involving an attorney.  More often than not, this will have serious consequences down the road.
For example, if a residential tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may elect to evict.  That is initiated by the preparation of a complaint sets forth the rent that has not been paid, as well as other charges such as late fees and attorney fees.  Then, after the complaint has been filed and a trial date has been set, the tenant may come to court and attempt to pay the rent to have the eviction dismissed.  If the lease is properly drafted, the landlord can require the tenant to also pay late fees and attorneys fees if the tenant wants to stay and has an ability to pay.  However, in order to be entitled to late charges and attorneys fees under New Jersey law, the lease must expressly state that the late charges and attorneys fees are “additional rent” under the lease.   Most DIY leases obtained on the Internet do not have this provision.  This is just one example of a common residential lease deficiency that I routinely encounter in my practice.
In the commercial lease area, I had occasion many years ago to represent a landlord which was owed a substantial amount of rent, but where the tenant was claiming a significant offset for repairs.  It turned out that the landlord had allowed the tenant’s attorney to draft the lease, and did not have its own attorney review the lease.  As a result, the lease placed the obligation on the landlord to make many types of building repairs over the course of the lease, whereas normally, those repairs would be at the tenant’s cost and expense.  As a result, the landlord incurred a lot of legal fees to have these issues resolved at trial, and collected a lot less rent from the tenant.
Clearly the problems described above could have been entirely avoided if the landlords had consulted experienced counsel to prepare their leases.  Similarly, we review leases for commercial tenants and through the drafting of lease riders, are able to obtain important concessions from the landlords, such as limitation of personal guarantees.  Call us today with your leasing questions and issues.

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Charles D. Whelan III has been committed to excellence for over 30 years. With offices located centrally in New Jersey, he is able to provide businesses and individuals with excellent legal services.

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