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Lease Guide for Prospective Tenants

The California University of Pennsylvania Off-Campus Housing Website provides information to help students gain a general understanding of leases that landlords use in California and neighboring area. This information has not been prepared by a legal attorney, and should not be considered legal advice.

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Lease Guide for Prospective Tenants

What is a Lease?

A lease explains in detail the relationship and requirements between a landlord and tenant. It is a legal agreement in which the context is between the tenant and landlord, where possession to part of an apartment/house that the landlord owns is rented to a specific person, for a specific amount of time. A lease outlines several important features, rules, and information that the tenants should be aware of when living in the apartment/house. Be aware that leases usually favor the landlord. Therefore, it is important to read the lease carefully, and discuss any disagreements with the landlord. Some aspects of the lease may be modified or deleted by mutual agreement. In this case, both parties must sign the changes made.

IF YOU DO NOT AGREE WITH THE LEASE, DO NOT SIGN IT!

By signing the lease, this will bind you, as the tenant, to the terms outlined in the contract.

Signatures

Both parties must sign the lease. A witness is not required to be present. In Pennsylvania, tenants must be 18 years of age to sign a lease. If a tenant is younger than 18 years old, they are required to have a co-signer (i.e. a parent or guardian) who will hold legal obligation of the lease with them. It is also acceptable for landlords to have a parent/guardian present when signing the lease, even if the tenant is over the age of 18.

Elements of a Lease

Here is a list of elements that are generally included in a lease:

Property Identification – This includes the address, street, house/unit number.

Length of lease – The start and end date of the lease term. This may be a month, a semester (4 months), an academic year (8 months), 10-months, or 12-months. The exact dates of the first and last day of the lease term will be indicated.

Rules and Regulations – Make sure that you read and understand this section! This is where several arguments can arise if the rules and regulations of living in the apartment/house are not followed. This section may include rules and regulations about noise, parties, pets, children, drinking, security issues, lifestyle/cleaning issues, parking, guests, etc. If the lease allows, rules can be changed, amended, or added.

Security Deposit – This is a customary process where the landlord requires a security deposit from tenants upon signing a lease. Security deposits are usually equivalent to the first month’s rent. Leases will usually specify that this deposit cannot be used as last month’s rent.

Please see the “When Things Go Wrong…” page for more information.

Payment of Lease – This is the specific amount of rent due every month. There may also be a total amount specified for the lease term. This section indicates when each payment is due, where to send it, and how to make the payment. Late payment consequences are also outlined in this section. Be aware that there may be late penalties for late rent payments.

Utilities and Appliances – Tenants can expect that they will be responsible to pay for utilities in addition to monthly rent. Sometimes, landlords may include certain utilities (i.e. sewage, garbage disposal) in the cost of rent. Tenants may be responsible for the following utilities: gas, power (electric), water, internet, cable, and telephone.  If tenants are responsible for certain utilities, they must contact the utility company and ensure that it will be set up by the first day of the lease term. In addition, they must cancel all utilities by the last day of the lease term.

Most of the time, an apartment/house will come with a refrigerator and stove, which is included in the kitchen. Some landlords may also furnish the property with living room furniture (i.e. couches, tables, etc.). Be aware that a dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer may not be included. Therefore, tenants may be responsible for furnishing their apartment/house.

Use and Occupancy – this section of the lease indicates the specific number of tenants in the apartment/house. The living space is only limited to these people. There may also be regulations with regards to guest visitation limits, and the amount of days they are allowed to stay.

Sublets and Subleases – Check with the landlord before subletting or subleasing the apartment/house. This may be a cost-effective alternative if you do not plan on living there in the summer months. However, written permission from the landlord may be required since some landlords do not permit this, and some policies may prohibit it.

Pennsylvania Agreement to Sublet

Additional Information

 

  • Waiver of Notice
    • The law requires landlords to give written notice of legal action to tenants. However, by waiving this right to notice, the tenant is allowing the landlord to take legal action immediately, and the tenant will not have the opportunity to correct or remedy the problem.
  • Acceleration of Rent
    • If a tenant fails to pay rent on time, or breaches other lease terms, the landlord may demand that the entire amount of the lease be paid within a specified period of time (accelerated rent). Landlords use this as a last resort if payments are not being made on a regular, timely basis. A landlord may go to the local magistrate seeking an order for the payment.
  • Confession of Judgment
    • By signing a lease with a confession of judgment clause, the tenant agrees to allow any attorney to represent him/her and “plead guilty” (confess judgment) for them. With a guilty plea, the tenant is responsible for the judgment delivered. Although residential leases may contain a confession of judgment, this is no longer legally enforceable in Pennsylvania.
  • Right of Entry
    • The landlord may be able to enter the apartment/house without notice, regardless if the tenant is present or not, in order to fix something, respond to an emergency, or show the place to prospective tenants. As a tenant, it is important to question and discuss this with landlords if the right of entry is unspecified or landlord access is granted at anytime because this may violate tenants’ rights.
  • Renewal
    • An extension to the current lease agreement for another period of time. Usually, leases may be extended up to the length of the current lease term (i.e. a year lease may be extended for another year). Landlords may inquire up to five months in advance if tenants are looking to renew the lease. This way, this gives landlords sufficient time to potentially start looking for prospective tenants.