Terms of Lease

The language used to describe the terms of a lease can be confusing and sometimes requires clarification. Before you sign a lease, it’s advisable to discuss the terms of the lease with your property manager so that you understand what you will be legally bound to.

Tenants Are Jointly and Severally Responsible

A lease will specify who the two parties signing the contract are. If several tenants sign a lease together, they are jointly and individually responsible for the fulfillment of all terms. If a roommate leaves earlier or does not pay rent the landlord can pursue the remaining tenant(s) for the entire rent.

Renewal Clauses

Most leases renew automatically for a period of one more year or one more month. The end of term notice included in the lease specifies the amount of notice required in order to terminate lease on the stated date or to change terms of the lease. In most cases, the notification time is 60 days, but some leases require 90 or even 180 days notice. If you want to terminate your lease, you must give proper notice in writing, usually by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Rent Increase

There is no rent control in Philadelphia. A landlord can increase rent by any amount they decide. The landlord cannot raise the rent in retaliation for the tenant exercising his/her rights. The landlord cannot increase rent when there are housing code violations on the premises.

Possession of Premises

A lease will specify that if a unit is not ready for occupancy because of reasons beyond the landlord's control, the tenant has two options: they can either wait until the unit is ready (and not pay rent) or can terminate lease and get the money back. The landlord is not obligated to pay for storage or hotel accommodations.

Sale of Property/Change in Management

In the instance where the premises you are living is sold or there is a change in management your rights to continue the lease are protected by law and by the terms of your lease. Your lease should remain valid until it comes up for renewal. You must be notified in writing about the change in ownership and instructed as to who and how to pay your rent. Your previous landlord must transfer your security deposit to the new owner. The right to continue a lease in case of sale of premises is a waivable right. In some cases, a lease can contain a subordination clause that states the new owner can terminate lease or change terms, usually in the case of a foreclosure sale. No such termination is allowed without the notice indicated in the lease.

Access to Premises

A landlord must always have access to the premises. In emergency situations, the landlord can enter without giving notice. For routine inspections/repairs or showing apartment after tenant has given notice of lease termination, a lease will require the landlord to give 24 hours' notice. If you feel your right to privacy is violated for any reasons you should address this problem in writing. Your rights to privacy and quiet enjoyment supersede any terms of the lease.

Renter's Insurance

Many leases recommend or require that tenant purchase renter's insurance. Your personal belongings are not protected by the insurance policy of the landlord. Unless you can prove negligence on the part of the landlord, you have no protection in case of fire, theft or any other loss situation.

Security Deposit

A security deposit is an amount of money retained by the landlord and held in escrow for the duration of the lease term. It is used for any damages done to the property during the tenant's occupancy. A tenant cannot use the security deposit as rent payment. 

According to the Pennsylvania Security Deposit Law, a landlord can charge an amount up to or equal to two months' rent as security deposit in the first year of a lease. After the first year, the landlord can only hold a security deposit equal to one month's rent and must return to the tenant the amount exceeding one-month rent. At the beginning of the third year, the deposit must be placed in an interest-bearing escrow account. At the end of the third year and every year thereafter, the landlord must remit the interest to the tenant.