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Opinion | Stop asking women if they want children
Opinion | Stop asking women if they want children
By Grace Harris, Staff Columnist • 12:19 am
Opinion | Long-distance friendships are possible
By Livia LaMarca, Assistant Opinions Editor • June 6, 2024

What to know when signing a lease

Residential+buildings+on+Joe+Hammer+Square+in+South+Oakland.+
Amber Farabaugh | Staff Photographer
Residential buildings on Joe Hammer Square in South Oakland.

Kendall Milan, a sophomore environmental science and history major, said she learned a lot about signing leases by helping friends tour apartments, and through her older sister who lived off campus during her junior and senior years.

“Actually reading and understanding the lease is really, really important,” Milan said. “I know a lot of people who don’t.” 

Students should read leases in detail before signing them. Experts suggest looking out for potential red flags such as landlords asking tenants to pay rent in all cash. If students run into issues with their leases either before or after signing, they can access help through resources such as the Office of Off-Campus Student Services.

Lizabeth Gray, neighborhood quality consultant at Oakland Planning and Development Corporation, said the most important thing for students to do before signing a lease is to read it “line by line.”

Students have a right to ask for changes to a lease before they sign it, according to Anna MacKinnon, the associate director of the Office of Off-Campus Student Services. 

“If there is something that they may be uncomfortable with, we suggest they reach out to the property manager to request that it be removed or edited,” MacKinnon said.

Milan said knowing your rights as a tenant when signing a lease is very important. According to Milan, students can receive help with leases through many avenues, such as through the Student Government Board, which provides free legal consults to students.

Gray said it is important that everything regarding the rental is clearly spelled out in the lease, such as who is responsible for utilities.

“For a long time, [water and sewage] was always included,” Gray said. “Well now, that’s changing. So, the cost of your apartment or house now includes this other utility.”

MacKinnon said students can bring any potential leases to the Office of Off-Campus Student Services where they can have the lease reviewed by a property manager liaison. 

“She can point out any clauses that may be red flags or assist with communicating with the property manager,” MacKinnon said. “We don’t recommend signing any lease until students feel comfortable with all parts of it, as it is legally binding.”

When reading a lease, Gray said one red flag to look out for is if the landlord asks the tenants to pay rent in all cash.

“I’ve had landlords that have told their tenants that they have to pay all cash,” Gray said. “That’s not legal.”

Gray said another red flag to look out for is if the landlord is only willing to put three names on the lease when there are actually more people than that living in the house.

“On the lease, legally that is a problem,” Gray said. “My attitude is, if they’re willing to break that kind of rule, what other rules are they willing to break?”

The City of Pittsburgh code that “no more than 3 unrelated individuals may rent one unit” is “unknown” to many students, according to MacKinnon.

“There should not be any residents who are not on the lease or multiple leases for one property,” MacKinnon said.

Gray said residents should ask to see the exact unit they plan to rent before signing the lease. 

She added that landlords sometimes show potential tenants the actual unit they will rent, but misleadingly say they will make changes to the unit before the tenants move into the property. According to Gray, potential tenants should get any noted changes, such as replacing the stove or refrigerator, written into the lease.

“Always get everything in writing,” Gray said. “It is a business relationship you have with this person. So, you have to develop this relationship. It should be a respectful relationship and it should be balanced.” 

Gray also said to make sure that there are smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors both stated in the lease and present in the property before signing the lease.

“By state law, you are to be provided with a basic habitable place,” Gray said. “If they’re not living up to that, then they’re not living up to their side of the contract.”

If tenants run into issues with their landlords not holding up their end of the contract, Gray said the first step residents should take is to contact the landlord. According to Gray, tenants should make sure all communication is documented either over text or over email. 

“Just say, ‘According to my lease, this is what you promised to do. When is this going to happen?’” Gray said. “They have to say they are going to do whatever within a reasonable period of time.”

If the landlord does not agree to do something within the lease, Gray said the next step for residents would be to contact Off-Campus Student Services or to contact her at OPDC. Gray said if residents still do not get anywhere there, they can contact Neighborhood Legal Services.

MacKinnon said the Office of Off-Campus Student Services is “always open” to students with questions or concerns regarding their rentals.

“We want to help students feel empowered and knowledgeable about their decision-making when it comes to living off campus,” MacKinnon said.

According to Gray, being straightforward in conversations with landlords and documenting all communication will help residents deal with any future issues regarding the lease.

“Remember, put this all in writing,” Gray said. “If you’re gonna do it over the phone, say, ‘I want to record this.’ Document, document, document.”

About the Contributor
Elizabeth Primrose, Senior Staff Writer