Off-Campus Housing Students' Rights
In order to provide a better bargaining position for students, here are some (but not all) "dos and don'ts" when dealing with a potential landlord:
- DO keep a signed copy of a written lease. Be sure it includes the dates of the lease term, the amount of the rent, when the rent is due and who pays for which utilities. Any special items such as pets, parking, etc. should also be put in writing. Most items are (or least should be) negotiable.
- DO NOT agree to pay your rent by the semester. In Pennsylvania, the landlord impliedly warrants that the premises are livable. If problems arise regarding the habitability of the premises, a tenant is justified in escrowing rent or using rent money to have repairs made. If you pre-pay your rent for the semester, you've sacrificed your two most effective remedies. Even though it sometimes seems easier to pay all your rent when your loan money comes in, don't pre-pay. Rather, tell the landlord you wish to make monthly payments under the lease.
- DO a "walk-through" with your landlord before moving in. Make a written list of any damages or excessive wear already existing on the premises. Have the landlord sign the list. This will avoid charges to your security deposit for any damage that you didn't do. Want extra proof? Take video!
- DO NOT allow your landlord access to your apartment without your permission - and then, only with at least 24 hours' notice. You have the right to "exclusive possession" under Pennsylvania law. Even if the landlord wants to make repairs, it's your living space and he needs your permission (except in case of emergency, i.e., broken pipes, etc.). If he violates this, he breaches the lease.
- DO provide your landlord with a forwarding address in writing at the end of the lease. The landlord then has 30 days to return your security deposit and/or provide a written list of itemized damages, together with the balance of your deposit. His failure to do so makes him liable to you for DOUBLE the amount of the deposit. Also remember it is a damage deposit and should not be used by the landlord to replace worn items.
- DO NOT be afraid to take advantage of the courts to enforce your rights. You may file an action at the local district magistrate's office by calling 724-632-3143 for any breach of the terms of your lease or for the return of your security deposit. If you cannot afford the filing fees, you may file an application to proceed "in forma pauperis" under Pennsylvania R.C.P.D.J. No. 206 and the fees will be waived. Also, remember: You can never be evicted, removed or locked out of your apartment without a court order obtained only by way of proper notice and a hearing.
- DO insist that your landlord enforces your quiet enjoyment of the premises. This is his duty under Pennsylvania law. If your upstairs neighbors are keeping you up late at night and have rebuffed your reasonable requests for moderation, it's the landlord's job to keep them quiet. If he fails to do so, you are excused from the lease.
This article was reprinted with the permission of the author to help educate students to their rights.