A lease is an agreement or contract between the landlord and tenant. All tenants have a lease whether it is written or oral. If you pay rent, you have a lease. The agreement you make with your landlord can be enforced in court. If you break the terms of your lease, your landlord must go to court to enforce the terms or to evict you.

Rule #1: Read your lease before you sign it!

Ask the owner to let you take the lease home and study it. Do not sign anything until you fully understand the commitment. Be sure to get help if you need it. The law requires landlords to use leases written in ordinary English. If a landlord offers you an older lease with lots of strange words, ask for a plain language lease.

Usually, the most important parts of a lease are typed in or written in by hand. Make sure you read and understand the parts of the lease that have been written in by the landlord. Promises made by your landlord that are not included in the lease will be hard to enforce in court.

Included in the lease should be:

  • The term of the lease (whether it is one year or month-to-month)
  • The amount of the rent
  • Who is responsible for paying the utility bills
  • How much notice is needed when you are ready to move

Some lease terms cannot be enforced – the tenant cannot be made responsible for all repairs or repairs that cost under a certain amount of money. According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Pugh v. Holmes, the landlord must maintain everything for which the tenant is paying rent. Similarly, the tenant cannot be made to take a house or an apartment as is. Regardless of any agreement you make with the landlord, it is the landlord’s responsibility to keep the property up to Housing Code Standards.

You cannot legally sign away your right to a decent place to live.