Understanding Your Lease

Understanding the Provisions of the Lease

A lease, either written or oral, is a contract which transfers possession and use of a rental property to a tenant for a specified time period.

The lease should define the respective rights and obligations of the landlord and the tenant. The Plain Language Consumer Contract Act requires that all residential leases be written, organized, and designed so that they are easy to read and understand. If you have difficulty understanding a lease, ask for help or contact a local agency who can assist you.

  • Remember, a lease is a legally binding contract. You are legally responsible for all the provisions in a lease you have signed.
  • Make sure you understand the terms of the lease before you sign it. By signing it, you agree to its terms and conditions for the duration of the lease agreement.
  • Make sure that all blanks are crossed out or filled in before you sign anything.
  • Make sure you get a copy of the entire lease. Do not accept the landlord saying he/she will give you a copy later.

You will want to make sure the following is included in your lease and that you understand the terms:

  • Name, street address, and telephone number of the landlord for emergencies
  • Your name and the name of others who are permitted to occupy the unit
  • Address of the rental property
  • Amount of monthly rent—make sure you find out how, where, when, and to whom the rent is to be paid
  • Rent due date
  • Late fees—are they reasonable?
  • Start and end date of the lease, is it a one year lease or a month to month lease—make sure you can commit to paying the rent for the entire rental period
  • Requirements for notices to renew/terminate leases—how much notice does the landlord have to give you to move out and how much notice do you have to give the landlord when you want to move out? (Note that in PA, leases can waive or shorten the statutory notice period required before filing an eviction.)
  • Does the lease renew on a yearly basis or does it revert to a month-to-month lease after the first year?
  • Security deposit—make sure you understand what will be required of you when you move out of the rental unit so that you can receive your security deposit back
  • Utilities—who is responsible for paying for each utility?
  • Maintenance—what are the tenant’s responsibilities for maintenance and who do you contact when repairs are needed?
  • What appliances are included in the lease?
  • Pet agreement and any pet security deposit (Remember, security deposits and pet fees may not be charged for assistance animals)

Rent Due Date

Most leases state that rent is due on the first of the month. You have an obligation to make sure that your rent is paid by the due date specified in the lease. Even if your landlord tells you it is okay if you are a few days late, you are still bound by the terms of the lease regarding late fees and other penalties.

Changes to the Lease

Any changes to the lease should not be made until the beginning of a new rental period, which is when you and your landlord renew the lease, unless both parties agree to a proposed change before the end of the lease term. Unless the lease specifies how changes are to be made, the landlord will be required to give one full rental period before the change is to take place.

Common Lease Provisions

  • Tenants must keep the dwelling clean
  • Tenants may be prohibited from subletting the dwelling without the landlord’s consent
  • Tenants may be prohibited from moving or breaking the lease without giving proper notice
  • Landlords are permitted to enter the property at reasonable times for inspection, repair, or to show it to potential tenants provided current tenants are given prior notice
  • Name of person to contact and how to reach that individual for maintenance and repairs
  • A list of regulations the tenant is expected to follow may be included in the lease

Unenforceable Lease Terms

Tenants are usually bound by the terms and conditions of the lease they sign, however some terms and conditions are legally unenforceable in court.

Examples of unenforceable lease terms and conditions include:

  • While tenants can be held liable for damages to an apartment, they cannot be made responsible for all normal maintenance and repairs, or all repairs under a certain dollar amount.
  • The tenant cannot be made to accept the house or apartment “as is.” Under the Implied Warranty of Habitability, the facilities and services provided at the leased premises must allow the unit to be occupied for its reasonably intended purpose as a dwelling unit. (Please refer to the section on Repairs and the Implied Warranty of Habitability)
  • The tenant cannot waive the right to represent himself/herself in a court of law.
  • The tenant cannot be made to agree that if he/she breaks any promise in the lease, the landlord has the right to break into the apartment, change the locks, and seize the tenant’s possessions.
  • The landlord cannot make the tenant agree to waive his or her rights to a hearing or confession of judgment.

REMEMBER: Read the lease carefully before signing it! Get everything in writing!

Avoid Falling for a Rental Scam

Some rental ads may not be legitimate. Scammers regularly advertise rentals that do not exist, that they do not own, or are not available. They also copy actual rental listings, change the contact and e-mail information, and place the altered ads in newspapers and websites to trick as many people as they can out of money.

You can avoid falling for rental listing scams by remembering these tips:

  • Never wire money or send a check to someone you have never met for an apartment you have never seen. If you cannot meet the landlord in person because she is living or traveling out of the country, or if you cannot see the actual apartment before you pay application fees, a security deposit, or sign a lease, keep looking. Wiring money is the same as sending cash—once you send it, you cannot get it back.
  • Do not be rushed into a decision. If you receive an e-mail pressuring you to make an on-the-spot decision for a rental, it could be a red flag. Ignore it and move on.
  • The lower the price for a premium listing, the more likely it is a scam. Below-market rent for a spectacular apartment in a great location with a million-dollar view? Scammers love to attract people’s interest by making too-good-to-be-true promises.

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