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 The Written Lease 

 

SPOTLIGHT

Get and Keep a Signed Copy

Some prospective tenants in the Slippery Rock area will be asked to sign a written lease before moving into their housing facility. The lease states the conditions under which the tenant rents the property and lists the obligations of both the landlord and tenant. In general, the lease is legally binding on both parties, unless its provisions and/or the actions of either party violate local, state or federal law.

Before a tenant assumes the legal responsibilities imposed by a lease, he/she should read it thoroughly, understand all conditions and insure that the lease contains sufficient recognition of his rights as a tenant. The typical lease is from one to four pages in length. Each lease contains several sections. A brief description of each section will acquaint the prospective tenant with general lease terminology and prepare him for the conditions he must consider before signing.

Description of Premises

This section should list the exact address, apartment number, etc., of the housing facility the tenant will occupy.

Term

This section should specifically state the duration of the lease (e.g., 12:00 a.m., September 15, 200_ to 12:01 a.m., September 15 200_ of the following year). The majority of leases specify a term of one year; three, six and nine month leases are available from some leasing agents. The tenant should carefully note the duration of the lease, since he is legally bound to pay rent for the entire length of time specified therein.

Occasionally, a lease will contain an automatic renewal clause, which requires the tenant to notify the landlord if he/she does not plan to remain in the housing facility when the current lease expires. If such a clause is present, the tenant should insure that the lease mentions the date by which he/she must notify the landlord. The tenant should also be sure to give written (not merely verbal) notification by this date if he/she does not plan to remain.

Some leases require students to find replacements for their unit if they decide to relocate (between semesters) within the same multi-dwelling units. In essence, if a student desires to change his abode from unit 1A to unit 27A, he/she must find a replacement or be obligated to pay the rent for 1A (as well as 27A) for the remainder of the original lease. If a student voluntarily leaves school, he is still obligated to fulfill his lease. He should check with his landlord to see if the obligation can be nullified because of expulsion from school, death or medical reasons for leaving school.

Rent

This section lists the amount of money the tenant agrees to pay for the duration of the lease and the date that the rent must be paid each month.

Generally, the lease first lists the total rental for the duration of the lease. The lease should then specify the exact amount to be paid each month. If more than one tenant is renting the housing for all tenants or the amount each tenant contributes to the monthly rental.

Rent is almost always paid in advance for the month following payment. It is illegal to withhold your rent.

Some leases also include an "escalation clause", which allows the landlord to raise the rent higher than the amount specified in the lease. Unless the tenant is prepared to pay more rent than the lease specifies, he should not sign a lease which includes such a clause, since he will be legally bound to pay the additional amount if he does sign.

Clauses To Make Sure Are Included

  • No deduction from deposit for normal use, wear and tear.
  • Deposits to be return as soon as possible upon expiration of the lease (state a time limit, like two weeks).
  • Premises are suitable for the purpose for which they are rented.
  • Lessor shall comply with all applicable provisions of any state or local statutes, code, regulation or ordinance governing the maintenance, use, construction or appearance of the dwelling unit and property of which it is a part.
  • Lessor shall keep all areas in clean and sanitary condition.
  • Lessor shall make all repairs and arrangements necessary to put and keep the dwelling unit in a good condition, as it was or ought, by law, to have been at the beginning of tenancy.
  • Lessor shall maintain all electrical, plumbing or other facilities supplied by him in good working order.
  • Lessor shall provide and maintain appropriate receptacles for removal of garbage and arrange for frequent removal.
  • Lessor shall supply hot water as reasonably required by the tenant.
  • Lessor shall maintain and repair fixtures, furniture and equipment belonging to lessor.

Subletting

Subletting is your chance to play landlord. First of all, you need your landlord's written permission to sublet the place. Then you're set to find yourself some tenants. Once you've found some neat, careful looking people, draw up a simple written agreement with them. It should explain that they, as subtenants, are bound to the original lease. Have it signed by everyone involved, including your landlord, and have it notarized.

Security Deposit

Most leases require a security or damage deposit to be paid before the tenant occupies the premises. The landlord uses this deposit as protection against damage done to the housing facility. Since disputes often arise between landlords and tenants over withheld security deposits, the tenant should note the following points carefully:

  • Most security deposits are equal to one month's rent. Those which exceed this amount are questionably high.
  • The tenant should prepare or obtain an exact assessment of previous damage to and cleanliness of the premises before he moves in and this assessment should be signed by the landlord or manager. The tenant should not sign the lease (if possible) or move into the apartment before the premises are in good repair and satisfactorily cleaned.
  • When vacating the premises, the tenant should arrange to be present when the landlord or manager inspects the premises and assess the damage and cleanliness. This precaution should eliminate the possibility of unjust or arbitrarily high charges and/or cleaning.
  • In 1967, the General assembly of Pennsylvania amended "The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951" by adding section 512. This can be summarized in five parts: Part (a) of the law states that the landlord must return to you an itemized list of damages along with the remainder of your deposit within thirty (30) days from the time you move out or from the termination of your lease, whichever comes first. Part (b) tells that if the landlord fails to offer either the damage list or the money within thirty (30) days, he forfeits all right to hold any amount of the deposit for any reason. So, if the landlord forfeits his right to hold the money and he holds on to it, you may file suit against him. Part (c) says, generally, if the landlord issues you an itemized list of damages within thirty (30) days, but fails to return the remainder of the deposit, he is liable for double the remainder of the deposit. If, however, he fails to issue a list of damages or return the money, he is liable for double the amount of the deposit. Part (d) says that there is no way that you, as a tenant, can be fooled into waiving this law by signing a lease. Part (e) says that you must provide the landlord with a written notice of your forwarding address.
Just one hint about demanding the return of your deposit. Wait five (5) days or a week beyond the thirty (30) day legal limit. Allow for the inefficiencies of the U.S. Postal Service. If a check comes late, but it is postmarked within the thirty (30) day period, you have no case against the landlord.

Use

This section usually states that the housing facility may be used for residential (as opposed to commercial) purposes only. It may also specify the number of persons to occupy the premises and the length of time a guest may stay.

Non-assignment

This clause concerns subletting the apartment and usually states that the tenant may do so only with the permission of the landlord or management. The tenant should understand clearly the specific procedures for subletting, according to his lease requirements.

Furnishings

This clause requires the tenant to take proper care of the furnishing and facilities on the premises -- generally stating that all facilities must be returned in the same condition as when the tenant first occupies the premises. Most landlords (and some leases) make allowances for "reasonable wear and tear" but landlords and tenants definitions of "reasonable" often do not coincide. Again, the tenant should have a signed assessment of the state of all furnishings and facilities before he moves in and when he moves out. This protect him from being charged for breakage and uncleanliness for which he is not responsible.

Also, if possible, the tenant should take "Polaroid" pictures of the entire unit. One copy should be presented to the landlord and the second copy should be mailed by the tenant to himself and left unopened until check-out. At this time, if there is a disagreement, the tenant should present the unopened letter to his legal counsel for evidence.

Utilities

This section specifies which utilities (usually water) the landlord assumes responsibility for and which (usually electricity, gas and telephone) the tenant must pay. If possible, the tenant should find out the approximate monthly cost of each utility, since, in many cases (especially in newer apartment complexes with electric heat and air conditioning), utilities will add extra cost.

Confession of Judgement

What this amounts to is that you grant your landlord permission to take action against you without facing you in court. Your property can be seized and it's up to you to file for a court hearing to stop it. So, don't violate the lease in any way.

If you are ever informed that a judgment has been confessed against you, seek legal advice immediately.

Entry

This clause usually gives the manager or landlord the right to enter the dwelling to show it to prospective tenants at a "reasonable time before the termination of the lease." The clause may also include the right to enter to make repairs or to inspect the premise. If the lease does not state that such entry must be made at a reasonable time and with prior notice, the tenant should attempt to have these conditions entered into the lease, for the sake of his own privacy and security.

Joint Rental Responsibility

This section states that the persons signing the lease will be jointly and severally responsible for the dwelling. In common language, this means that if any of the tenants in the dwelling leave before the lease expires, the remaining tenants are responsible for his/her rent. The tenant's only protection in this case is careful selection of roommates. If any tenants leaves before the lease expires or fails to pay the rent, the other tenants are responsible for the entire rent fee.

Performance

This clause states that the landlord or manager may evict the tenant for failure to carry out any of the provisions of the lease. This includes non-payment or late payment of rent or the breaking of any rules covered or referred to in the lease. Such eviction, however, must follow proper procedures. At no time may a landlord bodily evict a tenant. If necessary, check with a legal authority on "proper" procedures for evictions.

Liability

This clause states that the manager, management company or landlord, will not be liable for any injury to the tenant or his property, but the section may include other statements protecting the landlord. Some lawyers express doubt that such a clause would survive a legal challenge. If the lease contains a section similar to this, the tenant should attempt to have it removed. In any case, it would be wise for the tenant to investigate purchasing insurance for his/her person or personal property. Students should check with their parent's homeowners policy to find out if their policy covers the student's property. There have been cases of students losing "everything" (all possessions due to fires, explosions, etc.).

Rules and Regulations

These items may be contained in the lease or merely referred to and given to the tenant in a separate handout sheet. They should be obtained and read carefully. Such regulations vary greatly with the lease and include such items as no pets, no loud parties, parking space assignment, trash disposal procedures, etc. The tenant should be sure he understands all such rules, since failure to comply could result in eviction.

Special Provisions

This is merely an alternate title for "rules and regulations" and expresses similar conditions.

Repairs

This section, if included at all will specify to what extent the landlord will be responsible for repairs to the housing facility. If the landlord makes any verbal promises regarding repairs, the tenant should insure that those promises are included as written clauses in the lease, otherwise the promises are not binding.

Any substantial dispute between landlord and tenant over repairs or conditions, which may involve the actual health and safety of the occupant, should be referred to the Health Department for investigation.

Miscellaneous Charges

This section may make the tenant financially responsible for "negligence or misuse" of public areas of the building, for special cleaning charges (e.g., shampooing carpet, etc.) or a variety of other items. The tenant should read this section very carefully, know what he is signing and attempt to have any section which he considers unfair removed from the lease.

This constitutes a summary of the sections found in most lease with accompanying essential information. There may be other provisions. In all cases, the prospective tenant should read the entire lease carefully and understand every section. If he does not understand any part, he should feel no embarrassment about asking questions. Leases are written in legal terminology. No layman remember that the landlord or manager is renting the apartment at the highest investment return possible in his situation. The conditions imposed in the lease are designed to protect that investment. It is entirely up to the tenant to protect this own interest. He can best do his by knowing exactly what he is signing and what right (if any) he is signing away.