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Residence Life 

 Translating the Lease into English 



The majority of leases are typically one-sided - and it's not the tenant's side. They give you the feeling you have a number of obligations while the landlord has not. There are few, if any, remedies in the leases to make the landlord do his duty - but plenty to make sure you do yours. Many leases are one-sided for a purpose - to make you think you have no recourse against a negligent or nasty landlord. But this kind of lease only works if you don't know your rights.

The real story is that there are countless housing, municipal and health code to ensure that you get the services you're entitled to. But you may have to fight to get those services - through arbitration, tenant's unions, small claims courts, and complaints to housing and health authorities. Before you put up a fight, you first need to understand what all those mind-boggling legal phrases mean.

We've assembled a number of sections from a typical lease that you should read with extra care. We've translated them into understandable terms.


This section is usually one-sided and sometimes reads: "the lessee shall render the lessor harmless for any damages which may arise and accrue however caused, whether in whole or part to acts of negligence on the part of the lessor." In English, this means that even if something (or someone) is damaged or destroyed because of the landlord's negligency you agree not to hold him/her responsible and sue him/her. There may be a way you can beat this clause. Consult an attorney. You may still have recourse against the landlord (lessor). See if your lease tells who will fix what if it's damaged.


Most leases will state that you can't make changes or decorate without the landlord's written consent (otherwise your security will be used to put it back the way it was). It will probably also; "all alterations upon demised premises shall become the property of landlord, and shall remain upon, and be surrendered with said premises..." So, even if you just hang up a towel rack, it's supposed to stay behind when you move.

Default in Payment of Rent

Most leases provide a way to get rent money from you in case you refuse to pay, skip town, or are excessively late. Here's how it will read: "The tenant hereby pledges to the landlord all the goods and chattels of said tenant which are upon the premises as security of payment of rent," or it might read: "The lessor shall have a lien upon all personal property of the lessee..." This section is not as threatening as it sounds. The fact is, the landlord cannot lock you out or enter your apartment without a court order. Nor can he or she cause you to leave your apartment without a court order.

Additional Rent

This section might read: "In the event there shall be an increase in (costs) the tenant shall pay his proportionate share of said increase." In some leases, it will state the maximum increase in either a dollar amount or a fixed percentage; in still others, the sky's the limit. The fact is, the landlord must state the specific items (taxes, fuel, insurance, etc) and the formula to be applied. The landlord must also exhibit reasonable proof.

Landlord's Attorney Fees

Many leases contain a clause (usually typewritten) setting forth a specific amount for the landlord's attorney's fees in the event the landlord has to institute any kind of action against the tenant. The amount is usually $100 - $200. The fact is, fees are awarded only if the landlord wins and the fee must be specific, not just "reasonable." Where the tenant sues the landlord, no attorney fees will be awarded to either party (so use Small Claims Court).

Automatic Renewal Clause

Some leases say that your lease can be renewed even if you don't sign up again, Here's how that section will read: "Upon expiration of the original term thereof, this lease shall automatically be renewed and extended upon the same terms and conditions." If the period of tenancy is specifically stated in the lease, there may be some questions arising as to contradictory clauses. Discuss the intent with the landlord.

Notice to Vacate

Check this section to see how long in advance you'll need to notify the landlord (in writing) before you intend to leave. Knowing what this section says could save your security deposit.

Remedies Not Exclusive

Under this sections, you'll agree that any action the landlord has already said he or she will take (in case you damage the place, don't pay the rent, or fudge the lease) isn't all he or she can do to you. This is what it will say in legalese: "It is agreed that each and every one of the remedies provided by this lease shall be cumulative, and shall not be exclusive of any other remedies allowed by law."

Moral Turpitude

The landlord has no right to supervise the coming and going of guests or yourself. A clause in your lease attempting to make such stipulations is called a moral turpitude clause. This type of clause may be illegal. If you notice such a clause in your lease, or if your landlord attempts to insert one into your lease, beware. However, the landlord does have the right to demand that TV's, stereos, etc., be turned off or are low enough so that other tenants cannot hear them after 11:00 p.m.