In most states, the landlord-tenant laws specify that a lease, and particularly a lease for residential property, like an apartment, has to contain a certain number of things, such as a description of the premises and the amount being charged for rent. The idea is simple enough: tenants need to know exactly what they’re getting when they sign a lease.

To that same end, many states-and even the federal government-have laws that require leases to contain some things that are less obvious than rent details. The laws on lease notices and disclosures are designed to protect renters from various harms or dangers that are, or could be, on or near the premises being leased, like toxic substances or certain classes of criminals.

Of course, each state has its own landlord-tenant laws and the notice and disclosure requirements can vary significantly from state to state. So, before you sign a lease, check the laws in your area, or get some help from an experienced real estate lawyer, to make sure the lease contains all necessary notices and disclosures.

Federal Requirement

If the premises being leased were built before 1978, federal law requires the landlord to disclose to potential tenants if there is lead-based paint or other lead-based paint hazards in the apartment or house being rented. In addition, the landlord must disclose the location of the lead-based paint and/or hazards, as well as the condition of the painted surfaces. The tenant must be given at least 10 days to conduct a risk assessment or inspection of the premises.

Also, the landlord is required to give prospective tenants an information pamphlet about identifying and controlling lead-based paint hazards.

Landlords who don’t follow the requirements of this federal law are subject to civil and criminal penalties and can be liable to the tenant for up to three times the amount of any damages suffered by the tenant as a result of lead-based paint.

State Requirements

Again, notice and disclosure requirements for leases vary from state to state, but some of the common ones you’ll see include the following.

Sex Offenders. All states have some type of law based upon Megan’s Law, which requires the states to register individuals convicted of sex crimes against children and to make that information available to the public, which is now done primarily through state-run Web sites, and a federal site.

Most states require landlords to provide a notice in the lease about the existence of state’s registry or data base of sex offenders and how to access that information. In some states, landlords are required to disclose whether any sex-offenders live in the area if the landlord has actual knowledge that an offender lives near the leased premises.

Agent, Representative, or Manager. Almost all states require the lease to disclose the name and address of all owners or landlords of the leased premises, as well as any agent, representative, or property manager that is authorized to act on behalf of the owner/landlord for things like receiving notices and demands, such as a tenant’s notice of terminating the lease or request for repairs and maintenance.

In some states, this information can be disclosed to tenants by posting it in elevators and/or in one more conspicuous place, like a lobby or recreation room.

Mold. In some states, residential landlords must give written disclosure to prospective and current tenants of affected units when the landlord knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that mold, both visible and invisible or hidden, is present and affects the tenant’s premises or unit and the mold exceeds limits set by federal or state environmental agencies.

This notice must be provided to prospective tenants before entering into the lease or rental agreement, and to current renters as soon as possible.

Also, before entering into a lease or rental agreement, landlords must also provide prospective tenants written disclosure of the potential health risks and the health impact that may result from exposure to mold.

Pest Control. In some states, landlords must give each new residential tenant notice of any pest control of exterminating that is to be done. The notice, which typically is prepared by the pest control company, has to describe the pest to be controlled, as well as the pesticide or pesticides proposed to be used and the active ingredient or ingredients.

Death and Certain Diseases

In some states, a landlord has no duty to disclose to a potential tenant that a death occurred on the premises to be leased. In some states, however, the landlord must disclose to the potential tenant that a former occupant or renter died in the premises, and how the death occurred, if the death happened with a certain period time, usually three years, before the potential tenant would move in.

However, even in states where disclosure is required, there is no requirement to disclose it if the former renter had or died from acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Questions for Your Attorney

  • I did not receive a lead paint disclosure from my landlord, there is peeling and deteriorated paint in my apartment, and I have a young child, so I’m now worried about lead contamination. What should I do?
  • How detailed should the disclosure be regarding pest control at the apartment complex where I live?
  • I just found out that my apartment was a murder scene, but my landlord never told me this. Can I get out of my lease and get my security deposit back? Am I entitled to any other damages-the situation is very upsetting.