can landlords change rules mid lease

Updated June 2021

As a landlord, you might want to change the lease rules that you have in place, to better reflect the needs of your business. Can landlords change rules mid lease, or is this illegal?

It’s essential that you understand when you can and when you cannot make changes to the rental agreement you use with your tenants. Violating the lease terms or trying to force changes when it’s not allowed can lead to big, costly legal issues. Landlords need to avoid these issues at all costs, so it’s key that you get a good understanding of this topic.

Do you know when and how to properly make changes to your lease agreements? Today, learn all that you need to know about lease changes in our landlord lease workshop.

A Table Of Contents: Can A Landlord Add Rules To A Lease?

When can a landlord add house rules to a lease, and how can these rules be legally added? In today’s workshop, we’ll break down details about lease changes that all landlords should know.

Landlord Legal: Can Landlords Change Rules Mid Lease?

When tenants start doing things that you don’t agree with, you might be tempted to change their lease to stop the behavior. However, that likely is not the right course of action.

Can landlords change rules mid-lease, or is it illegal to do this? Many new landlords incorrectly believe they can make changes to the lease at any time because it is their property. However, it is not legal to change the lease during a lease period.

Why Can’t Landlords Change The Rules Mid Lease?

Landlord Legal: Can Landlords Change Rules Mid Lease?

It may seem that the landlord should be able to change the rules of their lease because they own the property and should be able to switch things up when they want to, as long as the rule change is fair. Right? Wrong.

A lease agreement is a contract, which means that two parties come together on an agreed-upon exchange of terms and benefits for both sides. Landlords and tenants sign a lease agreement and agree to perform certain duties and also to give up some things in the process.

If a change in a rule affects the terms and conditions of the contract, that can be a problem. Any rule change that affects the tenant’s wallet or how they live in the rental property day-to-day can be considered a change in the terms and conditions of that lease agreement contract. Landlords simply cannot change anything they want, when they want.

Allowing landlords to make changes to the lease agreement could lead to situations that greatly affect the tenants’ daily lives, and that is not okay.

To change the rules that both parties agreed to without a new agreement from both parties would be illegal. How, then, can you make changes to a lease agreement that needs to be updated as soon as possible? The only way to do this mid-lease is through a lease addendum.

Enacting Rule Changes Properly: The Lease Addendum

Sometimes, both landlords and tenants will want to make a change to the lease agreement mid-lease. Unlike one-sided changes, this is possible.

There are ways that landlords and tenants can make changes to the lease agreement. This is known as a lease addendum. This type of lease change means the landlord and tenant both agree to amend a certain part of the contract they signed.

What Is A Lease Addendum?

A lease addendum is a new contract that is signed and tacked onto the original lease to update the terms or add new terms to the existing lease.

The key to using lease addendums is to remember that both sides must agree on them before they go into action.

A lease addendum gives the tenant some power in approving or negotiating the change, because it cannot take effect unless both parties agree and sign. The change only occurs if they both enter into that agreement.

Addendums can be made for nearly any term outlined in the original lease agreement so long as both parties agree to the changes. If either party does not want to sign off on the change, then it can not be enacted.

Lease Addendum Examples

To get an idea of how lease addendums work, it can be helpful to look at a more specific example.

One lease addendum example might be that in the original lease agreement, the landlord promised to pay for basic cable as part of the rental agreement. The tenant now wants to have a satellite TV service installed, but it is much more expensive than the cable you offer as part of their lease.

The landlord and tenant reach an agreement that the landlord will no longer provide or pay for basic cable and that the tenant can get satellite TV installed at the rental property and will assume all costs for that service. The lease addendum would outline these new terms, and both parties would sign the addendum.

Once both parties sign the addendum, it should be added to the original lease agreement on file so that both parties have a copy of the new terms. In some cases, landlords and tenants will also initial the original lease again, to be clear there has been an addendum created.

Check out this video for more information on changing rules mid-lease:

5 Common Changes Landlords Try To Enact Mid-Lease

5 Common Changes Landlords Try To Enact Mid-Lease

Inexperienced landlords often try to effect changes mid-lease because they just don’t know any better. Often it is a reaction to a current tenant problem, such as making new rules about parking, restricting access to a property amenity like a pool or clubhouse, or imposing additional requirements for yard maintenance.

While the landlord is simply trying to enact these changes to regain control of their property, that doesn’t mean they can do so. Instead of trying to make changes to an agreement mid-lease, you need to address these problems in a more direct, reasonable way.

While there are dozens of things a landlord may want to change, it’s important for both tenants and landlords to know the proper way to usher in a new policy or rule. It can be done—it just needs to be done right rather than in the middle of a current lease agreement.

These are five common changes that landlords try to enact mid-lease:

  1. Raising the rent before the current lease agreement expires
  2. Changing the late rent date or late fees
  3. Charging tenants to use a previously free amenity, like the pool or parking space
  4. Adjusting lost key or lockout policies
  5. Imposing arbitrary rules based on tenant behavior that doesn’t violate the lease agreement

How To Handle These Issues The Right Way

As mentioned above, unilaterally changing the lease in the middle of the agreement period to address these issues is not permitted. So how can a landlord better prepare themselves to handle these issues in a legal, appropriate way in the future?

Include Flexible Lease Terms

If your property includes pool rights, community areas, and other spaces where you might need to change the rules mid-lease, this needs to be reflected in the original lease. Rather than including the specific pool rules in the lease, for example, you could write in the lease agreement that “all posted rules must be followed at the community pool.”

By writing the lease agreement with flexible terms that are reflected in signage or other areas that can be changed at any time, you can maintain control over the community areas even though you cannot change the lease.

Similar terms can be added for things like parking spaces or lockout policies; the terms used in the lease agreement can state that these amenities can be changed at any time within reason. Again, this allows the landlord some leeway in making adjustments when, for example, the costs of things change.

Wait It Out

In some cases, you will simply have to wait out the lease agreement. If, for example, you realize that you priced the property too low for the area, you won’t be able to raise the rent until the lease ends or any applicable lease terms come into play.

It’s not fun to need to wait out something like this, but that is often your only option as a landlord. If this happens to you, make sure you prepare your next leases more carefully and avoid this situation again.

Look For Violations

When having disagreements with tenants, it can be difficult to see them doing things you don’t appreciate but that are not in violation of the lease agreement. However, you cannot do anything about these things, as arbitrarily changing the house rules is illegal.

However, you can end a lease agreement or ask a tenant to comply with the lease if they violate it. Make sure to keep an eye out for these issues, and act quickly if violations do occur.

Mid-Lease Changes In Action: A “Bad” Example

To get a real-life idea of how this type of issue could affect a landlord like you, see how one landlord’s misinformed decision led them to a world of trouble.

In the spring of 2014, a news story about a landlord in California garnered a lot of attention. The landlord had sent his tenants a notice that said each tenant needed to prove that their income was at or above a certain amount and have a certain credit score or else they would have to move out.

Angry tenants spoke to the press and to their attorneys as the story spread.

Interviews with lawyers and other landlord and tenant experts immediately pointed out that the landlord was in error. A few days later, the landlord sent out another letter to tenants asking them to disregard the earlier notice.

We’re a tenant screening company and not lawyers—that is why we asked our friends at Avvo if they would shed light on this situation.

Listen below as we discuss this subject with Esther Sirotnik of Avvo’s General Counsel.

If you need professional advice, we highly suggest Avvo’s online directory as a cost-effective resource.

After getting Esther’s take, let’s go back to the original story from California and see how it applies.

Up-Close Case Analysis

What was wrong with the landlord’s request? Income is not a protected class, and a landlord has the right to set any approval criteria as long as it doesn’t cross over into discrimination.

Smoking, criminal history, and several other distinctions are not protected either, so why did the landlord catch so much heat for his notice?

The reason the landlord got into such hot water with tenants and the landlord/tenant community at large is that he attempted to change the conditions of the tenancy during an existing lease agreement.

He was trying to re-screen existing tenants and impose income levels and credit scores that had not been previously established. In other words, the landlord tried to change the terms of a contract while it was still in effect.

The question, —can landlords change the rules in mid-lease—has a simple answer: no.

When Can A Landlord Change A Lease Agreement?

Can a landlord change a lease agreement at any time, or is it always forbidden? It’s important to understand when you are permitted to change lease agreement rules and when you are not.

At Lease Renewal

Landlords can implement rule changes when a tenant’s lease agreement expires. In other words, landlords should notify the tenant of the upcoming change well before it’s time to renew the lease so the tenant will know of the change before signing the new agreement.

If the tenant is in a month-to-month lease agreement, the landlord must provide sufficient notice to the tenant of the change—generally a 30-day notice, although some states may allow for longer or shorter notification periods.

When A New Lease Is Signed

Rules can also be established for new, incoming applicants that can choose to abide by them when signing the lease agreement.

Any Other Time

If a landlord wants to implement a major change to an existing lease, the two ways to do so are via a lease addendum or waiting until the current lease agreement expires.

If your lease agreements are written thoroughly and with the correct language, you likely will not end up in a situation where you want to change the agreement in the middle of the lease. Use RentPrep’s landlord starter form kit today to make sure your lease is solid!

FAQs: When Can Landlords Change Leases?

Can a lease be amended?

As long as both the tenant and landlord agree, a lease can be amended and changed to better suit both parties’ needs. However, this will not always be possible because there will be cases when either the tenant or the landlord does not want to make changes.

When both parties are in agreement, the actual process to amend a lease isn’t very difficult. A new lease can be signed in entirety, or additional contracts can be signed and added to the original lease. The latter option is more common, as voiding the original lease is not something most landlords want to do.

The key is that both parties must sign all documents, and any conflicting information must be clarified in the most recently signed document. This ensures that there will not be any disagreements because of differences in documentation, so it is key that you review everything very carefully when executing lease amendments.

What is the difference between a lease amendment and a lease addendum?

Amendment and addendum are two very similar words, so understandably you may be confused about the actual difference between a lease amendment and a lease addendum.

A lease amendment is a type of contract that makes changes to an already existing agreement. This means that terms of the original contract will no longer be in effect, and new terms will take their place. This type of lease document may modify just one section of the original rental agreement, or it might rewrite it entirely.

A common example of a lease amendment might be a change to how the utilities are being managed at the property. If the tenant has decided to get their own cable TV plan, an amendment may be needed to modify the original language about how the cable service is to be paid for.

On the other hand, a lease addendum is a document that adds more terms to an existing lease agreement. This means that a topic that is not covered in the original document needs to be added. A lease addendum allows that topic to be attached to the agreement.

For example, a lease addendum would be needed to add a pet to a property where there were previously no pets allowed or certain rules about pets. A pet addendum would allow both parties to agree to terms for the pet to stay at the property.

In some cases, there may be updates to the original lease agreement that are part amendment and part addendum. Ultimately, the language used to refer to each of these contract changes isn’t the most important factor. The key thing to pay attention to is that all contractual agreements are made by all tenants and the landlord.

Can a landlord change the lease after it is signed?

No. Landlords cannot make changes to the lease after either party signs it. If the tenant agrees to add in some changes, both parties will need to sign the agreement again to ensure it is legally valid.

Can you renegotiate a lease after signing?

While it is possible to renegotiate a lease after signing, it is better for everyone involved if all negotiations are done before the lease agreement is signed. Otherwise, trying to come to an agreement can lead to bad blood and strained relationships. If both parties agree to a renegotiation, amendments and addendums can be used to update the contract.

Can a landlord add fees mid-lease?

No. Landlords cannot add fees for previously free services in the middle of the lease. Asking a tenant for more money in the middle of their lease is not allowed.

But can a landlord add fees mid-lease in any circumstances?

The only times that a landlord can add fees is through something like a pet addendum. This means that the original lease may have said no pets, but both the landlord and tenant have agreed to allow a pet as long as a pet deposit and fee are paid. In this case, the landlord can add a fee through the addendum, but only because all parties agree and sign a new contract.

Similar circumstances where a new service is being offered at a fee allow landlords to add fees mid-lease, but these fees must be optional. Required fees cannot be added without previous agreement by everyone involved.

Can a new landlord change the lease?

No. A new landlord who has purchased the property from the previous landlord cannot change the rental agreement mid-lease. They must continue the terms of the lease as if they had signed it themselves.

The only circumstance under which a new landlord might be able to change the lease is if the original lease included special terms in the case of the sale of the property. While this type of terminology is uncommon, such language can exist in cases where the previous owner already had the property on the market when the lease was signed.

Can a landlord raise rent after the lease is signed?

A landlord cannot raise rent after the lease has been signed. They must wait until that lease ends.

If a tenant signs a one-year lease, a landlord typically will issue a rent renewal letter 11 months later.

At that time, the landlord will inform the tenant that the rent will be increasing. Once the 12-month lease is up, the landlord can increase the rent.

The only time that a landlord may be able to raise rent mid-lease is if the lease allows for this. Some two-year leases, for example, will allow for a limited rent increase at the one-year mark. If these terms are in the original lease, a rent increase can happen.

Move Forward With Confidence

Can landlords unilaterally change rules mid-lease without agreement from the tenants? No, absolutely not. The only way that you can make changes to an ongoing lease agreement as a landlord is to wait for the lease to end or to sign a lease addendum with the tenant.

It’s important that you do not violate the lease agreement or try to enforce new rules if your lease agreement doesn’t allow for this flexibility. Violating a tenant’s rights in this way could lead to big legal or financial trouble, so it’s key to avoid this problem.

Write a solid lease agreement from day one, and make sure to include adjustable lease terms where possible. With these things in mind, you’ll be able to move forward with confidence and avoid this type of situation altogether.