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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Housing > Landlord-Tenant > Leases

Understanding Your Lease

A lease is a contract (agreement) between a landlord and a tenant for the rental of an apartment or house. A lease can be an oral (spoken) agreement or it can be in writing. Most leases in New Jersey, whether oral or written, are not the result of bargaining between the landlord and the tenant—the landlord knows that there is more demand for rental housing than there are units to rent, so the landlord can set the lease terms. The person who wants to rent the apartment must then accept the lease as offered by the landlord.

Sometimes, landlords will try to include unreasonable or unfair terms in the lease. For example, a lease may require a tenant to get the landlord’s permission to have overnight guests or visitors. This rule is unreasonable. A tenant has the right to have friends or relatives visit for a few days without getting permission from the landlord.

In New Jersey, every lease must be written in “plain language.” This means that the lease must be written in a “simple, clear, understandable, and easily readable way.” Cite: N.J.S.A. 56:12-2.

Before signing a written lease, read it carefully. Do not sign a lease with blank spaces. Make sure that the terms in the items in the lease are the same as those you and the landlord agreed to when you discussed renting the unit. If you do not understand something in the lease, don’t sign it. Tell the landlord you first want to take it to a friend or lawyer who will help you to understand it. If you do sign a lease, be sure you get a copy. This will prevent the landlord from making changes afterward.

If your lease is spoken, make sure you discuss with your landlord all of the responsibilities you have and all of the responsibilities the landlord has. It is important that you understand what you must do before you make a final agreement with the landlord.