|Signing a Lease|
When you move into an off-campus apartment you will be required to sign a lease. A lease is a legally binding agreement between a property owner/manager, the “lessor” and a tenant, the “lessee.” A lease can be either written or oral; generally speaking, once you have paid rent and have been given keys to access the premises you have a lease. Oral leases can be valid for up to three years in the state of Pennsylvania, although it is much harder to prove the terms of the original lease. Despite this, you should always obtain a written lease for your off-campus apartment.
Landlords’ Promises/Warranty of Habitability
A lease is a legally binding contract to lasts for the time period specified in the document. It is imperative that you read the whole document carefully. Once you sign the lease you are beholden to its terms.
When you visit a rental unit and submit an application to rent, the landlord may respond to your concerns about the condition of the apartment with promises to fix, clean, paint and replace worn appliances or cabinets. The landlord may also make verbal commitments that contradict terms in the written lease such as lease length, pet and subletting. Any verbal agreements are rarely enforceable, and it is important that you get the landlord or property manager to write them into the actual lease or attach them to a “lease rider”.
As a tenant, you are protected by certain rights whether they are written into the lease or not. Some of those rights you can waive and others are unwaivable. If a lease asks you to waive any unwaivable rights, those portions of the agreement will be deemed illegal clauses and will not be enforceable by the landlord or property manager. The presence of illegal clauses in your lease will not negate the entire contract; rather, those portions will be subject to “severability.” That means that only those specific parts will be struck out of the agreement. Some basic unwaivable rights as outlined in the Landlord Tenant Act of 1951, the “Warranty of Habitability” (1978) and the Philadelphia City Council Ordinance of 1987, include:
All leases are for a finite time period, after which it can either be renewed or terminated. When signing a lease for the first time it is imperative to take note of the renewal clause and proper termination notice. Some leases terminate at the end of the term, others go to a month-by-month schedule, while others still automatically renew unless a termination notice is received by a specified date. It is important to take note of your renewal terms so that you are not stuck in a lease you do not need or require for another year.