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 Defensive Lease Reading 

 

SPOTLIGHT

Next time you're presented with a lease, don't be put off reading it just because you're told "Oh, don't worry - it's just a typical lease." That's even more reason to read it - and read it defensively. Here are a few points to get you started:

  • Read every word. It's good advice in any contract, but especially in leases and for a good reason. More often than not, it's the sentence buried 16 lines down within a paragraph that tells you what you really need to know.
  • Most leases are divided off by section titles that are supposed to make it easier reading. But they're no help. The sections seem to be thrown in at random with no logical order. For example, one section may tell you that you can't make "disturbing noises" while 15 sections later you'll find out that you can get evicted for it. So, read the lease with an eye for how the different sections relate to each other. If you don't, you could be surprised later.
  • Be wary of a sentence that begins, "It shall be deemed a substantial violation..." A substantial violation is just the legal term for something that could get you evicted. Although some judges have said that these rules are unreasonable in the context of the entire agreement, many other judges stick to the letter of the lease. Also, some judges have said that words and phrases in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, heavier print, or italics are meant to be more important - and thus grounds for eviction. You could hardly say the phrase was buried in the lease. Be advised that as of July 1, 1976, all lease can no longer contain small print (although we're not sure of what the penalty is).
  • Before you sign, read over any apartment "Rules and Regulations." Most leases state that these rules are part of the lease agreement. Plus, they're the day-to-day rules you'll have to live with.
  • If you and the landlord agree to add or subtract anything from the lease, don't rely on a verbal agreement. If you disagree later, it'll be just your word against the landlord's; to make it "legal," both of you should initial the paragraphs you change.
  • If you have any questions, ask them before you sign. If your rental agent's answers don't satisfy you, try to contact the landlord or consult the Office of Residence Life.