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The Lease Agreement

The Lease Agreement is a contract, either written or oral, giving you, the renter, the use of the property for a specific time (usually six to twelve months). The lease will usually contain other conditions, such as who pays for utilities, and whether pets and subletting is permitted. There are, of course, many other provisions which may vary according to each landlord’s specifications.

Although the lease itself may be written or oral, it should be kept in mind that both are legally binding. The disadvantage of an oral agreement is the possibility that a landlord may attempt to demand performances that are not part of the original lease. In such cases, it is often difficult for the renter to prove such agreements did not exist. Oral agreements are equally as risky to a landlord, because some renters may also try to make false claims about the agreement. It is generally recommended that you should avoid an oral lease simply because verbal agreements have a tendency to result in misunderstanding. The renter, therefore, should request a written lease with evidence of the original agreement.

Standard Form Lease

There are many types of written leases. The standard form lease is a printed form that includes the specific major clauses that make for a legally binding contract. Most landlords use this standard form lease and simply print in the blanks provided information such as the landlord’s name, your name, the amount of the security deposit, and terms of the lease. Despite the fact that this type of lease is formal and binding, it has advantages for you. It assures you that the rent can only be increased by the conditions set forth in the lease. Moreover, an inclusive lease states in clear language the conditions for both the renter and the landlord. Some written leases guarantee that the tenant can only be evicted for violations specified in the lease. When more than one tenant is to sign a lease, be sure to protect yourself in that you are not responsible for a cosigner’s rent obligation. You should be careful to read all the fine print, even if it means using a magnifying glass. Be careful of clauses that seem slanted in favor of the landlord. Remember that once you sign a lease, you are bound by its conditions.

The Lease Itself

Before signing your lease, you should understand the terminology. You, the tenant, are the renter. The landlord is usually referred to as the rentee. If the address and phone number of the landlord is not included in the lease, you should be sure to get the information when the lease is negotiated. The following is a list of the most common conditions contained in standard leases. A rentee should be at least familiar with the meaning and the rights and duties that they create for the tenant.

Security Deposit

You may be required to pay a deposit to cover the repair of anything you might damage. To protect yourself from having to pay unjustly, make a complete list of all damages (even the minor ones) and submit this to the landlord when you enter into a lease agreement. Take photographs of damages when moving in and note them on the lease. If you have access to a video camera, walk with the landlord through the house/apartment, checking for damages. Make sure you keep a copy for your records. The landlord must agree to the specifics of the damage list before it can be considered official. If you don’t make a list, you run the risk of eventually being charged for what you did not do. Insist that your security deposit be put in an escrow account, so that your balance will be there when the lease is terminated.

Section 512 of the Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 provides that your landlord must return your full security deposit within thirty days or supply you with a written, itemized list of your damages plus the balance of the deposit. You, the tenant, must leave your landlord a forwarding address in writing and pay the last month’s rent. This thirty-day period begins upon the expiration of the lease or when you (the tenant) give possession back to the landlord.

Duration of the Lease

You should always be aware of the duration of the lease. Such a clause should state when it begins and how long it will last. It could be month to month, year to year, or a “school year” lease. A month-to-month lease usually gives you rights to the apartment for sixty days and is renewed each month by continued occupancy. A thirty-day notice is required prior to termination. The year-to-year lease, on the other hand, obligates the tenant and the landlord for one calendar year, and rent is usually paid in monthly installments. The tenant should be aware that continued occupancy, even for only a few days past the termination date, may obligate the tenant to an additional year’s rent payment. The school year leases are only obligated for nine months of the school year.

Rent

A tenant should always be careful that the lease states the amount of money due and when the payment should be made. Without a rent amount in the lease, the tenant may face the landlords’ attempts to unjustly increase payment. Furthermore, the tenant should be careful to note any penalties that the lease may contain for late payment. Some standard leases contain a rent acceleration clause, which permits the landlord to demand the entire amount, i.e., the number of months remaining, as an assurance for the late payment. Often leases contain a forfeiture clause which allows the landlord to treat the lease as breached for the late payment.

Repairs

Some leases provide for the landlord to enter your property to inspect it or to make repairs. In specifying such a clause, time and date arrangements between you and your landlord would be the most preferable method. Your landlord may only inspect and make repairs at reasonable times. If your landlord comes at an unreasonable time, you can ask him/her to come back at a time more convenient for you. If the landlord continues to come at unreasonable hours, you may bring action against him/her before the district magistrate. If you are required to move out, even if only temporarily, in order for the landlord to make repairs, your responsibility to pay the rent is suspended for that time. Remember that the landlord should first clear any improvements you make to the property.

Subletting and Assignment

The term sublet means to lease or rent all or a portion of a leased or rented property to another person. Assignment refers to the transfer of property. The tenant should be sure to understand these conditions. Many leases limit the tenant to use the property only as a residence. Restrictions on either subletting or assignments are enforceable by the landlord. NOTICE: If you enter into a lease and then fail to return to school for the year of your lease, you are required to either pay your full rent for the year or sublet your share of the lease. Remember that a lease is a legally binding agreement that DOES NOT consider tenants who do not return to school a reason for the contract to be void.

Signing the Lease

A tenant should not sign unless he/she first inspects the property and clearly understands the lease. If the tenant cannot understand or the landlord cannot explain any part of the lease which is unclear or crossed out, sit down with the landlord and decide on the clause’s meaning and importance. Then you and the landlord must initial any changes made to the lease.

Although it was indicated earlier that a verbal contract is enforceable, a landlord’s verbal promises to make repairs are difficult to enforce. The tenant should write “this payment or rent is subject to repair.” Then make a list of repairs to be made. Write it; don’t say it. In Pennsylvania, verbal promises made when there is a written lease are not admissible in court. You should never sign a written lease that does not include the landlord’s verbal promises in writing. Once the tenant signs the lease, the landlord and tenant each get a copy. Both copies should be exactly the same.

The Last Word

The lease is essential to a proper understanding of the roles that the tenant and landlord are to play. As such, every potential tenant should be sure to read and understand the contents of the agreement. Court action is never the most desirable means to settle disputes. Often disagreements arise from misunderstanding of the agreement itself, and it is the standard policy to try and settle all grievances informally. If an informal agreement cannot be obtained, the lease is often the tenant’s and the landlord’s weapon in court. Many times disputes develop simply from the mutual distrust between the tenant and the landlord and their conflicting interests. That is why a well-written lease is essential between a renter and rentee. When the rights and duties of each party are in writing, both can rest easier knowing exactly what they must do and can expect to receive in return.

Disclaimer

This information is provided for the convenience of the student and should not be taken to imply that the university has inspected or approved any off-campus housing. IUP will not knowingly assist any property owner who engages in unlawful housing discrimination. The Off-Campus Housing list is only a record of possible openings in the community. In issuing this list, IUP assumes no responsibility for the condition of the housing or the safety or well-being of the student while he/she resides off campus. We strongly urge you to review and inspect the subject premise prior to any commitment or exchange of funds.

 

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