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wildpotato's avatar

How do I get my landlord to give me a lease?

Asked by wildpotato (15104points) April 15th, 2015

Long, stupid story, but here it is: My fiance and I have lived in our rental house for a little over a year now with our dog, cat, and goats. Upon move in we were told the lease would be imminently forthcoming, and brought this up at the one month and two month marks. Then I gave up nagging and it hasn’t really been an issue until recently, when I asked permission to adopt a new puppy. Landlord refused, stating that our lease actually states “No pets.” Ok, says I, that’s kind of odd given that it’s never been brought up before, plus I know the last two renters had pets too, but fine, whatever you say, – but can I please get a copy of the lease now, so we are on the same page about stuff like this, and so we can write in my current animals for personal liability purposes. But wildpotato, he says, we’re not going to pull any funny stuff with you. Ok, I reply, but it would just make me more comfortable to get things down in writing. He finally agrees but claims that the lease is located on a computer they need a new battery for, so I ask for a timeframe for when he can get it to me. A week, he says.

It’ll be a week tomorrow. I am 99% sure that he will not have the lease ready, nor will even bring it up of his own accord.

I feel like I’m living in Bizzaro-world here – how is it possible that a landlord wouldn’t want to do this? A few more details to set context for this crazy situation – he and I had been on friendly terms up until a few months ago, when he refused my requests to fix the mailbox (there’s still no door on it) and to plow the driveway or arrange to have it plowed by a reasonable time following heavy snowfall (this is a requirement for landlords in my state). Now he seems to expect me to continue our business relationship based on a goodwill that I no longer believe exists between us. I shouldn’t have had to rely on it from the get-go, I know, but this is a small town and I trust too easily. He and I are still on friendly speaking terms, but I am no longer willing to trust him, since it’s become clear that his thoughts and intentions are absolutely opaque to me.

Is withholding the rent my only arrow in the quiver? Or having a lawyer contact him? I really, really don’t want to go there, especially because 1) I’m friends with the rest of his family and the last thing I want is to fuck them over, and 2) I’m not prepared to move right now. Any ideas? – the less acrimonious, the better. Is there any friendly way to go about this?

Tl;dr: I’ve been living in my rental lease-free for a year and am no longer willing to let the situation stand. Is there anything I can do other than withhold rent to extract a lease from my landlord?

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11 Answers

Buttonstc's avatar

You ask “I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want a lease.”

If I remember correctly, your state has some of the best rental protections for tenants compared to many others.

Without a written lease, it’s a case of he-said-she-said and if things take a bad turn he could arbitrarily give you a 30 day notice for no cause at all.

Ultimately, your trump card is withholding rent but I understand your reluctance to do so.

Try to find a local group dedicated to tenants rights and ask for their advice. Perhaps they have a lawyer willing to write up a polite letter which may get the job done.

But the bottom line is this: even if you don’t press him for a written lease and are meek and mild about everything, he can still evict you on a whim, leaving you with zero protection.

At least with a lease, you have some protection and clarity.

I certainly understand why your trust has gone out the window but that’s all the more reason to get it in writing. After all, he did verbally agree to it.

And I don’t see this as effing over his family at all. It’s a simple case of business is business. Period.

It need not be acrimonious unless HE chooses to make it so.

Silence04's avatar

Wait, you moved into a place without signing a lease first?

you should have walked away immediately.

Without a lease, he has no obligation to rent his place to you, or do anything for that matter. In fact, it’s his word over yours becuase you are basically trespassing on his property.

You have zero control over any decision the landlord makes without a lease. He could probably have you arrested on a whim and take all of your belongings.

With that said, you also have no legal obligation to pay him rent. My advice, find a new place to rent with a lease TOMORROW!

dxs's avatar

This guy sounds fishy to me, too. At least wait the week and then call, explaining again (be it for the millionth time) that it’s important to you. Keep a nice tone no matter how frustrated you are—it won’t be worth it to vent your anger.
If I understand this right, you moved in without signing a lease, so you’re just month-to-month. If you withhold your rent, I’m willing to bet he’ll give you a notice to quit. Did he know you had so many pets when you moved in?

susanc's avatar

Yep, get a new place. With room for goats. Sorry.

jca's avatar

I don’t understand why you think that withholding rent is an option? Is that supposed to force him to give you a lease? I don’t see how it’s going to help relations between you.

AshlynM's avatar

I think withholding rent is normally reserved for landlord who refuse to do repairs, not getting a copy of the lease. I don’t understand why he won’t give you a lease. Any good, responsible landlord will have no problem doing this. I would not withhold rent, unless you want to get evicted.

dappled_leaves's avatar

I’m going to guess that the answer to your question will depend on the laws in your state. Here, the tenant receives a copy of the lease at the signing, and the lease is considered to be automatically renewed without changes three months before the lease is up, if neither party sends a registered letter before then.

So, under our rules, you would already have a copy of the lease, and you wouldn’t have switched to month-to-month when your first lease expired. But not knowing what the rules are where you are, it’s hard for me to read what your situation is, other than that the personal relationship is souring.

Is there some sort of rental board that would give you advice? It’s hard for me to understand why you left the signing without a copy of the lease in the first place. Are you just wanting a copy, or are you hoping to renegotiate the terms of the lease? That is, if you are now month-to-month, aren’t you really looking to sign a new yearly lease?

Judi's avatar

In most states a verbal agreement is binding. If I were you I would make sure all correspondence you can get is in writing. Save all emails notices notes and letters. They are the only evidence you have of the terms of your agreement.
DON’T stop paying your rent!!
That is the worst thing you can do!
Weave the terms as you understand them into emails and correspondence. If they go un challenged, you will have the upper hand as you are the only person with any written documentation should you ever find yourself in front of a judge.
I have no idea what state you live in but it’s always a good idea to document document document. Keep a journal of verbal conversations too making sure you write down dates and times of your conversations.
Since you have no written agreement your documentation will be the only evidence you have of the agreement.

wildpotato's avatar

Thanks, guys. The outside perspective is really helping – he’s been making me feel as though I’m the unreasonable one in this; like he thinks I’m impugning his character by wanting anything beyond his word. Thanks for affirming that my wanting the lease is reasonable.

I live in Massachusetts. I had two cats and the dog, all approved by him and his wife, when I moved in – one of my cats died recently. The goats – technically livestock, not pets – were acquired seven months ago, actually on my landlady’s (his wife) suggestion (her friend needed to get rid of goats and we had mentioned wanting goats at some point in the future – we were planning on getting some after we bought our own place, but hey, free goaties). My landlord and landlady were both involved in approving the conditions for getting them (not allowing us to build a new barn; approving minor renovations to the existing woodshed to make it into a barn).

Our hope was to stay here until we found the land we want to buy in this area, but moving to another rental is beginning to look like a good idea. I have begun looking, but there is a very low chance that I’ll find something in the right location and for the price I’m paying now. I’d be willing to pay a few hundred more, but so far I can’t find anything at that level either. I live in a ruralish area where rentals are not too common. But I’ve only been looking in earnest for a few weeks now, so we’ll see.

I know it’s hard to understand why we didn’t get a lease in the first place. There was no usual handing-over-of-the-keys thing (PM me if you want more explanation on the keys; can’t post about it on a public place) – we looked at the place a month prior to moving in, told them we wanted it, and they told us we could begin moving in whenever, and they would have a lease in the house for me. We moved our stuff in and started living there; no lease appeared. I asked about it several times in the first week, slightly less the second week, then again when I sent second month’s rent, and maybe once after that, until now. You know how you can ask someone to do something, and they give you earnest assurances it’s happening, and you believe them, and then nothing happens, and then you have the exact same conversation again? It’s like that. It comes down to me being uncomfortable continually nagging them to do this thing they told me they would do, and getting frustrated enough with the lack of physical response that I either had to stop talking about it and thinking about it or risk alienating them by my frustration. And I can’t afford to alienate them because they’re my landpeople and neighbors. Plus – and I know this reason is weak-sauce, but hey, here itis – I genuinely liked and trusted them and believed they would not screw me over. I still believe that of the wife – but I also know now that she will not override her less-than-trustworthy husband if he decides, in his now-apparent caprice, to screw us over. I am not hoping to renegotiate terms, I’m more looking to have a written copy of what the terms are, period, since it has become clear that they and I are not on thesame page about at least one of them. The tenancy has always been understood to be month-to-month, as per our initial verbal agreement – I’ll be happy to continue with that or go six-month or yearly; whatever they’d like.

I will try to find a rental board/tenant’s rights group; that’s a great idea. Button is correct that Mass has some great tenant protection laws.

I’ll keep paying rent. It’s a relief to hear from you guys that withholding is a bad idea; glad to take that option off the table. I will start restricting conversations to email as much as possible, and will record verbal conversations as you suggest, Judi. I emailed him this morning to try to set up a time to meet and get the lease.

Beyond that – do you guys think should I keep bringing this up whenever I see him, until it gets done? My feeling is that he’d read it as nagging and insulting to his integrity. As I’ve come to know him better I’m realizing that he’s a very insecure person and tends to read inquiries as passive-aggressive demands, and I’m not sure there’s a good way to avoid antipathy with someone like that. Asking him to do anything is like tiptoeing around a landmine. Something that’s been going through my mind during all this – his poor kids; no wonder the son always seems so morose

dappled_leaves's avatar

I didn’t realize that you hadn’t signed a lease at all (am I reading that correctly?). If it were me under these circumstances, and I were planning to move again eventually anyway, instead of pushing for a lease I think I’d just get the new puppy and put up with any other minor inconveniences. The landlord can’t hold you to the terms of a lease you neither signed nor even saw.

Judi's avatar

I wouldn’t push to hard for the lease, just document the terms as you understand them.
I might even basically write out the terms as you understand them and email them to him asking if he has any objections.
” I just want to clarify that we moved in on X date and the monthly rental rate agreed is X. We paid X deposit.
We agreed to pay x utilities.
You agreed we could have x animals.”
Include any other agreements you may have made and ask if you have the agreement correct.
The local law will determine other things that are usually on a contract like how much notice you need to give and under what circumstances you get your deposit back and how long he has to return it.
I wouldn’t worry about a written agreement as long as you have some documentation of your agreement.
Leases are usually written in the Landlords favor and you really have the upper hand without one as long as you document document document.

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