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Lease Agreements

So, you’ve found a place that you like that is available to rent. Your next step is to talk to your landlord and ask him/her some key questions such as:

  • How long can I rent?
  • Must I rent over the summer?
  • Can I sublet the apartment?
  • When is the security deposit due?
  • What does it cover?
  • When is the rent due?
  • Is the rent based per person or for the apartment?
  • Who pays the utilities?
  • Are pets allowed?
  • Is off-street parking provided?
  • What painting or decorating can I do?
  • Who is responsible for repairs of malfunctioning appliances?

Do not rent a place, sign a lease, or pay any rent without first inspecting it thoroughly. Sometimes you are required to put some money down to hold a place until the paperwork is finalized. Make sure you get a receipt and a signed statement saying you will get a full refund if it is found unsuitable. Before moving in, inspect the apartment with the landlord present. Make sure the faucets work, electric outlets and light switches work, windows have no cracks, and that the appliances all work. Make a complete list of all problems and previous damages, and take photos to document pre-existing damages.

Verbal (Lease) Agreements

When making arrangements involving money, responsibility and liability, it is imperative to take the necessary steps to insure that all parties involved know obligations, their liability limits, and the parameters of their responsibility.

At times, you will encounter those individuals who insist on a verbal agreement concerning your rental of the premises. If you enter into a verbal lease, make sure you take time to get to know the landlord. Verbal agreements are legal, but even with a witness it is hard to prove what was agreed upon. Specifics aren't usually worked out, so if problems occur your landlord can request you to leave with 30 days written notice.

Be sure to get receipts for deposits and cash payments for rent. If you pay by check, indicate on the front of your check the reason for the check (i.e. rent for 9-1-13 to 9-30-14 or security deposit, or etc.). Keep all cancelled checks and receipts for your records. Usually verbal contracts are on a month to month basis, unless you specifically agree to a different term. This allows you to end your tenancy with written notice on the first of that month. On the other hand, the landlord can raise the rent or ask you to leave in the same 30 days.

Written Lease

A written lease contains conditions that are binding to you and your landlord. It is imperative to understand and know what it is you are signing. Remember if you are 18 or older, by law you are considered responsible for any and all actions you take. It is difficult to break or change a lease without one side surrendering a sum of money. You might want to consult a lawyer to review the lease for you BEFORE you sign it. For a small fee you may also contact the Lawyer Referral Service at the Berks County Bar Association at 610-375-4591.

If you wish to review or discuss your lease here are some items your lease should contain:

  • Names - yours and your landlord's
  • Address - specific to property and apartment number
  • Dates - length of lease
  • Rent - explanation of rent payment procedures, amount, due date, late penalty, when rent can be increased
  • Termination or Renewal - when should landlord/renter be notified, specific procedures
  • Deposits - what is amount, when is it due, when will it be returned, clause stating no deduction for normal wear and tear
  • Maintenance and Repairs - who is responsible for what
  • Utilities - who pays for what, who takes care of repairs
  • Subletting - will subletting be permitted, any restrictions?

Sometimes clashes between landlord and tenant can be avoided when the two are aware of their rights. Here are some of the general laws, subject to waiver in a written lease, that govern landlord/tenant relations. A waiver is a term in a lease where a tenant gives up his right to hold a landlord to a specific provision of the lease.

  1. A landlord cannot collect more than two months security deposit at the beginning of the first year.
  2. A landlord must return any deposit over one month at the beginning of the second year.
  3. If a tenant is moving, he must give the landlord his address in writing to secure the security deposit. (Cannot be waived.)
  4. The landlord must return the security deposit within 30 days or submit a list of repairs required and any remainder of the deposit. (Cannot be waived.)
  5. Tenants may sue a landlord for double the deposit if the landlord fails to return the money or a list of repairs within 30 days. The landlord cannot hold any part of the deposit if he fails to meet the deadline and the tenant sues for just the deposit.
  6. A security deposit cannot take the place of the final month's rent.
  7. A tenant who breaks a lease is responsible for the remaining rent only if the landlord cannot rent the property.
  8. A landlord may not enter the tenant's apartment without the tenant's consent.
  9. A landlord cannot sell the tenant's belongings as payment for the rent owned.
  10. A landlord cannot lock a tenant out of his apartment without a court order.
  11. A landlord may evict for any reason at the end of the term with proper notice.
  12. A tenant may file an appeal of an eviction within 10 days after the order is granted.

If you only remember three things about leases...REMEMBER THESE:

  1. READ BEFORE YOU SIGN!
  2. LEAVE NO BLANK SPACES ON A LEASE!
  3. KEEP A COPY OF THE LEASE THAT HAS BEEN SIGNED BY BOTH PARTIES!

If more than one person is signing a lease...

Whether you're moving in with one other person or several, avoid signing a lease with your roommate. Signing one contract with others makes you responsible for the entire amount of rent as well as any damages or any breech made by any roommates signing with you. Request a separate lease covering the amount of your rent only.

Beware if you see any of these clauses in your lease:

  • Dismissal from college is sufficient cause to terminate the lease.
  • Tenant is liable for all repairs.
  • Tenant is liable for all legal costs in any dispute arising from the contract.
  • Any clause which makes you liable for subsequent rules, regulations, or changes in the lease.
  • Landlord may enter the premises at any time without written notice.
  • Disclaimer clauses which free landlord from any damages caused to you for any reason.
  • Tenant waives any defect in the building.

Here are some clauses you want to look for in your lease:

  • No deduction from deposit due to normal wear and tear.
  • Deposits to be returned as soon as possible upon termination of lease.
  • Premises are suitable for the purposes for which they are rented.
  • Lessor shall comply with all ordinances that govern the property, and if violation of an ordinance, lessor will make the necessary arrangements to insure your continued residency on the premises.
  • Lessor shall make all necessary repairs promptly to insure that the residents are receiving what they are paying for.
  • Lessor shall maintain all electric, plumbing and other facilities supplied by him in good working order.
  • Lessor shall maintain and repair fixtures, furniture and equipment belonging to lessor.

If these clauses aren't in your lease, inquire about their addition.