Lease details tenants miss are not necessarily hidden

By Marie Wilson

For tenants and landlords alike, the lease is the law.

Illinois law offers very little protection to tenants, making the lease the final word in most tenant-landlord disputes, said Esther Patt, coordinator of the tenant union.

Without a net of consumer protection, renters need to know what their leases say and take even the strangest and most unexpected clauses seriously, Patt said.

As students start their housing search for the next school year, these are some clauses in leases that tenants often misunderstand, do not know about or disregard.

Failure to deliver possession clause

This section of a lease allows a landlord to legally withhold an apartment from a tenant for a specified number of days. Tenants signing leases on buildings that are still under construction should look for a “failure to deliver” clause in their leases, Patt said.

In the online version of the rental agreement for the 309 E. Green St. apartments, this clause is under the heading “limitation of liability.”

It states that the lessor, Roland Realty, will credit the lessee an unspecified amount for each day the leasee is not allowed into the apartment after the beginning of the lease term. The leasor agrees to pay rent on the apartment for at least a 60-day period, even if they are not given possession of it.

If the tenant cannot live in the apartment within the 60 days, the agreement can be voided.

Patt said this clause is not hidden, but some who signed for apartments under construction did not read the lease to discover it.

Rent payment schedule

“There are provisions in a lease that would protect the landlord and protect the tenant, specifically the lease term and the amount of monthly rent,” said Miriam Booth, general manager of Bankier Apartments.

Patt said tenants sometimes complain when they realize their 12-month lease lasts fewer than 365 days.

“People don’t pay attention to it,” she said. “It may be 361 days long and some people complain, or it will be 11 months, but they’re paying 12 months rent.”

Once the tenant has signed the lease, the agreement length is set and each month’s payment will be due whether or not the apartment is in the tenant’s possession for 365 days.

Fully furnished

The lease is the only credible place to get information about which items of furniture will be included in an apartment, Patt said.

Advertisements and conditions viewed while on an apartment tour can be misleading.

“You don’t get a washer and dryer just because they told you so, only if the lease says so,” Patt said. “There are problems related to relying on promises that are not in writing.”

Some leases also document the amount of time the landlord has to fix or replace any broken items of furniture.

Miral Patel, junior in LAS, and her roommates are waiting for a new desk and dresser to replace the broken ones they found in their Campus Property Management apartment.

Patel said she has called the landlord multiple times to see when the new furniture will arrive. She also said she is aware of a clause in her lease that gives the landlord 30 days from move-in day to make non-life threatening repairs.

Must keep apartment warmer than 62 degrees at all times

To save money on utility bills, tenants often want to turn off the heat in their apartments during winter break. Provisions in many leases, including Bankier leases, prohibit this because it can cause pipes to freeze and damage many apartments at once, Booth said.

“It’s critical for tenants to know that during break, their heat should not be turned off,” she said.

Valid legal documents must be signed by both parties

Patt said she believes most problems students run into do not result from inexperience as renters. But forgetting to have the landlord or leasing agent sign each tenant’s copy of the lease is a mistake she said arises from “pure naivete.”

“You have to have a signed copy of the deal,” Patt said.

Patel said she signed her lease with three out of her four roommates present, and their copies are not signed by a leasing agent.

Reading the entire lease before signing was an unrealistic expectation for Miles Ford, senior in LAS. He said he felt pressured to sign quickly to secure a good place to live.

“It all happens so fast. They’re sitting and watching over you as you read it over,” Ford said about his experience signing a lease with Professional Property Management. “You don’t have time when you’re on the spot and then you’re already in the contract.”

All these clauses stay hidden to tenants who do not read their leases

Although some leases contain clauses that are confusing because they are lengthy sentences written in legal lingo, Patt said unclear wordings do not cause the biggest problems renters encounter with leases.

Instead, she said an incomplete understanding of the contract that results from failing to read the lease is at the root of most tenant-landlord disputes.

To decode any confusing sentences in a lease, students can bring it to the tenant union to have it reviewed before signing.

“We recommend, especially if it’s the tenant’s first lease, that they take it to the tenant union for review,” Booth said.

“Take time in signing the lease so you have a comfort level with it.”

Patt said she understands the pressure students feel to sign a lease before all the good apartments are taken, but she believes this pressure is less of a reality than it seems.

“This has been going on for decades. Five buildings lease up quickly, so people think everything leases up quickly,” she said. “The fundamental problem is that tenants don’t take leases seriously.”