A lease is a BINDING, LEGAL CONTRACT.
A sample copy of a legal lease and other information about Landlord/Tenant Rights is available in the Community Standards office in 239 Campion.
Plain Language Contract Act" was enacted in July 1994. According to this act, all residential leases after this date must be written, organized, and designed so that they are easy to read and understand by consumers. Some leases still contain unfair, illegal clauses or ask tenants to waive important rights. Some leases may ask lessees to waive their right to notice or to reduce it to five days. The law requires10 days of notice for non-payment of rent and 15 days for other violations of lease terms. Make sure you understand that the right to notice in case of non-payment of rent or other violations of the lease term is a waivable right. Another waivable right is the right to continue a lease when the property has been sold. Some leases ask the lessee to agree that in case there is a foreclosure sale, the new owner has the right to terminate lease. Since 1995 all leases for properties built prior to 1978 must contain a "Lead Paint Disclosure" clause. In addition to the remedies available under the implied warranty of habitability, in certain localities.
The Pennsylvania Rent Withholding Act provides assistance to tenants living in substandard housing. Once the leased premises have been inspected and declared unfit by the local housing code enforcement officer, the tenant may deposit his or her rent with a specific, approved escrow agent, rather than paying it to the landlord. These payments continue up to six months. After six months have expired, if the premises are still unfit, the deposited rent is returned to the tenant. Further six month periods of rent withholding may follow. In addition, the tenant's lease, whether oral or written, is extended until the unfit designation is removed. A tenant may not be evicted for any reason while he or she continues to make timely rental payments to the escrow agent. The tenant is also permitted to withdraw money from the account to make repairs or to pay utilities which the landlord has wrongfully failed to pay. If the landlord repairs or corrects the defects within the six month withholding period, the rent will be turned over to the landlord. In order to determine whether the Rent Withholding Act applies in your area, you should contact the local government offices or code enforcement officer. Even where the Act does apply, tenants may be better assisted by the more flexible remedies under the implied warranty of habitability. An attorney's opinion should be obtained before resorting to either remedy.
The Landlord Tenant Act of 1951 which was amended by the Philadelphia City Council in 1987 gives tenants certain basic rights, making it illegal for a landlord to lock a tenant out, shut off utilities, or harass with the intention of evicting without due process; whether written into the lease or not.
Since 1951 there have been certain amendments to the law, such as the "Warranty of Habitability" (1978) and the Philadelphia City Council Ordinance of 1987.
Under the implied warranty of habitability the tenant has an obligation to pay rent and the landlord has an obligation to maintain habitable [safe, sanitary and fit] premises depend upon each other. If the landlord breaks his or her obligation to keep the premises in a reasonable fit condition, this may relieve the tenant from his obligation to pay part or all of his rent until the landlord makes all necessary repairs. The landlord must be given notice of needed repairs and a reasonable opportunity to make repairs, but he does not have to promise to repair before the tenant may withhold rent. The warranty of habitability is required by law in all leases (oral and written).
Warranty of Habitability includes:
- structurally sound building,
- waterproof roofs, ceilings, and walls,
- walls and woodwork properly painted (no peeling-off paint),
- adequate heat in winter,
- hot and cold running water,
- bathroom equipment and drains that work properly,
- functioning stove,
- doors that lock properly,
- windows that work and can be locked,
- apartment/house free from infestation with roaches and/or rodents,
- a building with smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and fire escapes;
- Repairs to be made promptly and properly by property owner/manager;
- Enforce the right to habitable premises by using legal remedies such as repair and deduct, rent reduction, rent withholding, or move out of uninhabitable premises with the right to recover all prepaid rent and deposits.
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is otherwise known as the Fair Housing Act. It states that you cannot be discriminated against in any type of housing related transaction because of your Race, Gender, Religion, National Origin or Color. This Act was amended in 1988 to include Familial Status (i.e. the presence of children under the age of 18 in a family) and Handicap. In the State of Pennsylvania, the Human Relations Act also includes the protected class of Age (for those over 40). In this area, the Cities of Reading and Philadelphia also have local coverage and include other protected classes such as Marital Status, Sexual Preference and Source of Income. It is wise to determine if your state or locality has its own Human Relations Act that includes different protected classes
Subletting allows someone else to temporarily take over the lease. However if it is not handle properly it can cause problems for both the original tenant and the subleasee.
- When signing a lease make sure that subletting is permitted.
- Be aware that the original tenant is still bound to the terms of the lease
- Use a subletting contract; do not rely on a verbal agreement.
- Inspect the premises carefully and document in writing the condition of the apartment
- Make sure the utility accounts and the telephone account do not remain in your name.
- If in an apartment/house share situation, be aware that you are jointly and severally responsible for the total rental payment.