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Q. My lease is ten pages long. Do I have to read it?

A. Your lease is a binding contract. When you sign it, you are indicating that you will abide by all the provisions contained in it. So read your lease and be sure you understand it. Be sure you get a copy of the lease, and keep it in a safe place. Donít sign a lease that contains provisions you donít agree with or feel you can uphold. Donít accept a statement that the lease is only a form and you wonít really be held to all the provisions in it. If a certain provision does not apply to you, delete it by drawing a line through it, initialing it, and having your landlord initial it also.

Lease provisions may be negotiable. You can delete provisions as explained above. Similarly, you can add provisions by writing them in and having all parties to the lease initial them. If the landlord is not willing to negotiate, you will have to decide whether to live with the lease or find a different place to rent.

A Provision to Watch Out For:

You should be careful about signing leases that have a Confession of Judgment clause:

Confession of Judgment. This clause gives your landlord the right to get a judgment against you without notifying you or giving you a chance to defend yourself. A Confession of Judgment clause coupled with an Acceleration of Rent clause, which makes the total amount of rent due under your lease currently due and payable, could put you in considerable jeopardy. You should seriously think about whether to sign a lease that contains a Confession of Judgement clause. Confession of Judgment clauses may be found to be unenforceable in a court of law. However, it would be better to avoid the issue in the first place rather than to end up arguing about it in court.

Typical Lease Provisions:

Acceleration of Rent. An acceleration of rent clause means that, under certain circumstances (usually if you fail to pay your rent on time), your landlord may claim that the total amount of rent due under the lease (for example, one yearís rent if the lease is for one year) becomes currently due and payable.

Access to Apartment by Landlord. Many leases define the circumstances under which the landlord may enter the tenantís apartment. Most commonly, the landlord has the right to enter without notice in case of emergencies and with some amount of notice (such as 24 hours) in non-emergency situations.

Duration. Duration defines the term of the lease. If your lease is for twelve months, do not expect that you will be able to get out of it after nine months because the school year is ending. In some cases, you may be able to sublet the apartment. In most cases, you must have your landlordís written approval to sublet.

Entire Contract. An entire contract clause means that the lease constitutes the entire agreement or contract between you and your landlord. This means that oral promises made to you by the landlord that are not reduced to writing and incorporated in the lease have no value.

Insurance. Your lease may have a provision stating that the landlord does not provide insurance for you and is not responsible for damage or loss of your property or for any claims against you by third parties who are injured on the premises while they are under your control. Such loss or damage could be caused by fires, burglaries, storms, or by someone slipping and falling. Even if your landlord does not explicitly disclaim responsibility, it is a good idea for you to have insurance to protect your property and guests. You can find companies that sell renterís insurance by looking in the Yellow Pages of the telephone book or on the Internet.

Joint and Several Liability. A joint and several liability clause means that everyone who signs the lease as a renter is responsible for everyone else. In other words, if you and your roommate signed a lease and your roommate leaves school and moves out of the apartment, you are responsible for paying your roommateís share of the rent as well as your own share for the remainder of the lease. In such a case, you would have to sue your roommate in order to recover the money you paid.

Notice. Your lease may spell out how much notice you must provide your landlord if you decide to terminate the lease. You may be required to give notice of your intentions three months before the end of the lease. If you fail to do so, the lease may automatically be renewed. So be sure to read the notice clause and understand what is required of you. Lease often have Waiver of Notice Clauses, by which the tenant gives up his right to one or more kinds of notice.

Pets. Many landlords donít allow pets and those who do usually impose an extra monthly charge for the privilege of pet ownership.

Security Deposit. Many leases contain provisions regarding your security deposit. The lease may state that the security deposit is not to be used as the last monthís rent. It may state that the landlord will use the security deposit to pay for damages you have made to the apartment or overdue rent. Pennsylvania state law governs the handling of your security deposit by regulating the amount that may be charged, the time period in which it must be returned to you, and the circumstances under which it may be withheld. Be sure to give your landlord a written forwarding address as soon as you move out, as this triggers some of the provisions that protect your security deposit under Pennsylvania law.

Severability. Many leases have a clause stating that if any particular terms or provisions of the lease are determined to be invalid or unenforceable, the remainder of the terms and conditions will remain in effect.

Subletting. Your lease may have a provision regarding subletting. A common provision requires that the tenant obtain the written permission of the landlord to sublet the apartment. While subletting may be a good solution to terminating your lease early, it does not get you off the hook entirely. When you sublet, the original lease between you and your landlord remains in effect. If the sublettor fails to pay the rent or damages the apartment, the landlord can hold you responsible. You would then have to pay the landlord for rent or damages and try to recover the money from the sublettor.

Termination. Your lease may automatically terminate at the end of its term. Or it may automatically be renewed. You may be required to give notice of your intentions three months before the end of the lease. If you fail to do so, the lease may automatically be renewed. So be sure to read the termination clause and understand what is required of you.

Use of Premises. This clause may limit the number of people who are allowed to occupy your apartment. It may also limit the length of time a guest is allowed to stay at the apartment. A long-term visit by friends or family members may create problems in this regard. If you have plans for such a visit, you should discuss them with your landlord before signing the lease.

Utilities & Services. The cost of utilities and servicesósuch as heat, electricity, water, sewage, garbage collection, and parkingómay be included in your rent or you may have to pay for them separately. Be sure you understand which services and utilities are included with the rent, and be sure that your lease accurately reflects the arrangement.

Waiver of Notice. Pennsylvania law requires that the landlord give you specific notice if he plans to terminate your lease, evict you, or take legal action against you because he thinks you are violating the lease. Many leases contain a Waiver of Notice clause that allows the landlord to take such actions without notice, or with less notice than provided by law. Even without notice, certain steps must be taken before you are evicted.