I have heard more than 1,000 landlord tenant cases since I became a judge, and I have learned a few things I believe will be useful to both landlords and tenants.
When you rent to or from someone, this is very typically a temporary situation. Even if a property is rented for several years, it is generally not permanent. That means at some point this relationship will come to an end. Sometimes these end well and sometimes they end badly.
Like so many things in life, how a relationship begins can have a lasting impact on the health of that relationship and how that relationship will ultimately culminate. Given that housing represents either a great investment on behalf of the owner or a significant expense on behalf of the tenant, this is a relationship that should be undertaken with considerable thought.
Renowned psychologist Abraham Maslow considered housing — or shelter — as one of the basic foundational human needs. Since we are dealing with human needs, I keep referring to this as a relationship because I want to emphasize the human dynamic of this relationship.
A lease is the legal term for this relationship. Black’s Law Dictionary defines a lease as, “A contract by which a rightful possessor of real property conveys the right to use and occupy the property in exchange for consideration, usually rent.”
Simply put, a lease confirms what both the landlord and tenant agree to. This includes items such as the location, the amount of rent, the time frame of the relationship and the terms of the relationship. I have seen leases that are a single page and I have seen leases that are 20 plus pages. They exist to protect both the owner of the property and the tenant.
The location is usually straight forward but sometimes there are other buildings or portions of the property that are not included in the agreement. Additionally, apartments or condominiums may have access to common areas described in the lease.
The amount of rent is a set amount that is generally paid monthly but can be paid weekly, quarterly or on some other schedule. Although rare, in some instances rent is an exchange of good or services. The time frame of a lease is typically a year but I often see leases that are month-to-month or for some other time frame.
The terms of the agreement can include any number of things from a security deposit, utilities, late fees and limitations on the number of persons, pets and/or cars. The terms can also address what happens when the lease ends.
Anything not specifically covered in the lease will be subject to state law. The New Mexico law that covers landlord tenant cases is the “Uniform Owner-Resident Relations Act,” Section 47-8-1 of state statutes. You can view the law on the New Mexico Compilation Commission’s website, nmonesource.com.
Here are a few additional tips when entering into a lease. Do a joint walk-through inside and outside of the property. Take down notes on the condition of the property to include any significant damages. Inventory items that are not attached to the home such as appliances, furniture or yard equipment. Most people have a phone with a camera — take pictures and save them.
Once the lease is in place and rent is paid, use receipts. Receipts protect both parties equally and are proof of the amount that was paid and the date when rent was received.
When things go wrong, it is in both parties’ best interest to rectify the problem as soon as possible. For example, if something breaks or is damaged in a rental property, both parties have an interest in getting it repaired. Landlords want to protect their investment and tenants want to have a good quality of life.
When it comes time to go different ways, make sure you notify the other party in accordance with the lease or state law. Just like moving in, schedule a time to walk through the rental property, take notes on the condition of the property, and take pictures.
While this column covered a only a few of the highpoints, a great plain language resource for both landlords and tenants is the New Mexico Legal Aid “Renters Guide.” You can find it online in both English and Spanish at lawhelpnewmexico.org/node/9/renters-guide.
Judge John Chavez, guest columnist
Magistrate Judge John R. Chavez is the magistrate in Belen. He is a native of Valencia County and is a retired U.S. Army colonel.