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Owner Operator Lease Agreements: Everything You Need to Know

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One great way trucking companies can increase their transport strength is by retaining owner-operator drivers to expand their fleets. But because these drivers are independent contractors, they need a formal owner-operator agreement to ensure everyone understands what’s expected of them.

A properly prepared motor carrier lease agreement provides a detailed list of requirements for the trucking company and the owner-operator. This increases transparency and eliminates confusion.

Preparing this legal and binding document requires knowing what details to include in the agreements and how to implement them to protect all parties. Careful preparation on the front end helps avoid trouble down the road.

What is an owner-operator lease agreement?

An owner-operator lease agreement is a contract that outlines specific terms when a trucking company leases services from independent truck drivers. This agreement is necessary because the owner-operator isn’t an employee and is providing a hauling services to the company for a specific job. In return, the company pays an agreed-upon fee to the driver.

A detailed lease agreement between the trucking company and owner-operator covers potential issues that might come up during the temporary relationship. This clearly sets expectations up front as to what’s expected legally.

Types of owner-operator lease agreements

There are three main types of trucking company owner-operator lease agreement based on how independent truck drivers operate their businesses. They are the lease-purchase agreement, lease program, and lease-on agreement.

1. Lease-purchase agreement

Sometimes known as a lease-to-own agreement, this program allows an owner-operator to pay a set monthly fee to the carrier for use of the truck used in an ongoing contract. At the end, the driver has the option to buy the vehicle.

The lease-purchase agreement can be ideal for owner-operators who are just starting, don’t have enough money to invest in a truck, or have poor or no credit. Lease-purchase agreements help get drivers behind the wheel and earn money (and a reputation) by taking on jobs.

Factors that should be in a lease-purchase agreement are lease length (common time frames are between one and three years), the truck’s age, and what responsibility the driver has for maintenance costs and repairs.

2. Lease program

Similar to the lease-purchase agreement, a lease program means a trucking company “lends” a vehicle to an independent driver for use on the job. But the owner-operator isn’t required to buy the truck at the end of the lease. Once the contract ends, the trucking company can either renew the lease to the driver or lease him/her a different truck.

This arrangement isn’t much different from leasing a car, making payments for a set period of time, then returning the car at the end of the lease. While monthly payments can be lower with truck lease programs, the driver might need to put a down payment on the vehicle before driving it. In addition, these agreements sometimes have certain credit requirements depending on the finance company the carrier uses to structure the lease.

3. Lease-on agreement

The lease-on agreement is different. With lease-to-own and lease program structures, owner-operators “rent” trucks from carriers. In lease-on agreements, the driver already owns the truck and leases his or her rig and other appropriate equipment to the trucking company. Through this process, the owner-operator allows the trucking company to use its truck to haul freight on behalf of the company.

Leasing onto a trucking company can be ideal for the driver because the trucking company handles most of the paperwork and fuel tax. The company also finds the freight and jobs while providing dispatching services.

Key components of owner-operator agreements

Regardless of the type of agreement, the contracts should include specific, key items. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) offers “truth in leasing” regulations, found in Part 36, sections 376.11 and 376.12. These guidelines provide certain specifications when it comes to developing agreements between carriers and owner-operators.

Some of these must-have lease arrangements are:

Who is involved with the agreement. This basic information includes the names of both the driver and the carrier company (such as DBAs) and requires the signature of all parties involved.

Duration of the agreement. This details the start and end dates of the contract. It also includes any potential extensions that might be necessary due to weather-related issues or delays in loading or unloading.

The equipment to be used. Equipment used during transport can include the truck itself, the trailer(s), liftgates, tiedown devices, and converter dollies. This requirement would also include which party is responsible for providing or paying for the specified equipment.

Possession and control during the lease term. This states that the trucking company has control of the owner-operator driver (and any equipment used) during the leasing period. The owner-operator is responsible for following the trucking company’s specific rules during the term.

Compensation and pay rate for the owner-operator. There are many ways a trucking company might compensate a driver for hauling specific cargo. This needs to be specified in the agreement. 

Here are some guidelines to follow:

  • The payment method must be clearly stated, such as per mile or percentage of revenue.
  • The payment period from proof of delivery submission must be reasonable (no longer than 15 days).
  • Payments based on a revenue percentage should include a “right to inspect” carrier billing in the lease.
  • Any charge-backs initially paid by the trucking company are typically charged to the owner-operator.

Carrier and owner-operator legal obligation. The lease must specify any liability and cargo insurance offered by the trucking company and which party has responsibility for type of insurance, permits, paperwork, or similar issues. For example, if the company purchases insurance, the driver needs information on the policies. This might also include information about mediation or arbitration, if necessary.

Contract termination procedures. The lease agreement must clearly outline specific termination procedures if problems come up. This includes the circumstances in which the arrangement might be ended and the process for removing the trucking company’s name on lease termination.

Deductions to be made in case of property damage. The lease needs to outline provisions to be made by the owner-operator should the cargo be damaged at the point of origin, destination, or en route.

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Receipt of equipment process

Once both parties have agreed to the lease terms and signed the document, the trucking company and driver complete a “receipt of equipment” statement. This puts the truck under the company’s umbrella and gives it the right to inspect the owner-operator’s equipment to ensure it meets specific standards.

This is important, as the trucking company is responsible for the driver’s compliance and their vehicle, according to the FMCSA. Once that lease is signed, the FMSCA regards both driver and truck as “belonging” to the company for the duration. For example, if the owner-operator doesn’t maintain a logbook or is ticketed for safety violations, that information becomes part of the company’s safety data.

Finally, the proof of lease must be in the vehicle and the power unit marked with the trucking company’s name and Department of Transportation information.

Find more high-paying loads.

With the paperwork out of the way and owner-operators on board, the next step is to find and book high-paying loads. Using the Truckstop Load Board, trucking companies and owner-operator drivers can search high-quality loads with trusted brokers. More features include rate estimates, load comparisons, and a best-paying load search. For more information, visit Truckstop to schedule your free demo.

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