LURLINE R. JOHNSON (R), ABR, CRB, CRS, GRI, RMP
Property Profiles, Inc.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I was at my friend’s house and happened to see her rental contract sitting on her desk. It was at least five pages long and seemed to be very official. The lease that I have with my landlord is just one page and most of it is hand written. Is my contact legal?
A. There are two requirements that confirm a contract is legal and binding. First of all, both parties must agree to the major issues outlined in the contract. This means that one party has made an offer and the second party has accepted it. If the agreement is in violation of existing law then it is not a valid contract. Also, both parties must be of sound mind when making the agreement.
The second element of a valid contract is the exchange of something of value or the agreement to exchange something of value. The most basic exchange is that of cash for a service or product or in this case the agreement to pay a particular amount of rent in exchange for occupying the rental property for a specific period of time.
Valid contracts can be made orally or in writing. The Landlord Tenant Code allows for verbal contracts between landlords and tenants. Rental agreements between landlords and tenants are legal in both written and oral forms.
A written agreement may be for any length of time: month-to-month, six-months, one-year or any other term. All promises and house rules should be written into the agreement. Anytime the landlord and tenant make any new agreements or changes to the existing agreement, the new information should be put into writing and signed by both parties.
An oral agreement normally creates a month-to-month tenancy. An oral agreement for a fixed term may not exceed one year in duration. While oral agreements are more easily reached, exact promises and details should not be neglected. Problems often arise when promises are made, but are not clearly spelled out. For example, if the tenant is responsible for yard work, then how often the lawn should be watered, grass mowed, hedges trimmed, etc. should be spelled out.
If you are working with a licensed Real Estate Agent, then they are required by law to put the contract in writing (Haw. Rev. Stat. 666-4). Copies of written contracts need to be given to the tenant by the landlord. Having a contract in writing is the safest way to proceed for all parties because the conditions agreed upon in the contract are specified up front.
As of May 1, 2013, the Hawaii Association of Realtors (HAR) came out with a newly revised Rental Contract. The Forms Committee of HAR (a volunteer committee) worked for many months to restructure and refine the former contract to make it a more user-friendly version.
Some of the changes included having all the financial terms of the contract on the first page for easy viewing, organizing the basic terms of the contract into categories such as tenant responsibilities, landlord remedies, inventory conditions, landlord’s responsibilities, and disclosures. There was also a significant change to the Military Clause having it mirror federal law as outlined by the Service Members Civil Relief Act. By using the HAR standard lease, an owner is assured of complying with State, County, and Federal Laws.
As long as you and your landlord negotiated and agreed to the terms of the contract, then your lease should be valid. You may not have everything specifically detailed in your contract and therefore you may find yourself negotiating on certain items during the course of the lease.