Don't Leave Blanks in Printed Lease Forms

If you use a standard lease form that includes blanks for listing appropriate information, don’t leave any of the blanks empty. If you do and end up in a dispute with a tenant, you open the door to the court’s interpreting the meaning of the blank space using “parol” or external evidence in the tenant’s favor. And that can end up costing you big bucks.

Exhibit A is the Arizona landlord who purchased a commercial building and then demanded that the tenant pay real estate taxes. The tenant refused. The lease form required the tenant to pay real estate taxes that exceeded the “base year _____.” Unfortunately for the landlord, there was no date listed. The tenant claimed that the space was left blank deliberately because the original landlord never intended for the tenant to pay taxes on the building.

The blank space rendered the clause ambiguous, the court said. Consequently, the tenant was allowed to introduce parol evidence of the parties’ intention at the time they signed the lease. That evidence supported the tenant’s claim, the court found. Result: The tenant wasn’t responsible for any portion of the real estate taxes.

Takeaway: Fill in all of the blanks in your lease form. If a blank isn’t relevant, cross it out in a manner that clearly indicates its irrelevance. To be safe, you and the tenant should also initial each crossed out blank [Terry v. Gaslight Square Associates, 1994 Ariz. App. LEXIS 242].