Is there any penalty for changing our mind regarding an apartment rental?
May 28, 2005 5:48 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I have agreed to rent an apartment, in Philadelphia, beginning June 15th, and put down a security deposit and an application form last week. Then, we saw the contract and found it almost rude (it basicly says: the tenant has no rights and the landlord has absolutely no responsabilities), especially for a pretty high-priced rental. And we found out that there will be construction work in the immediate neighborhood of the building. And we found a better deal. And more...

So, now, we want out of the agreement. Are we liable for anything, except the security deposit? The leasing agent has a few emails stating we agree to lease the apartment, but there was no contract signed, no first-month paid etc.
posted by Ervin to Law & Government (15 answers total)
 
I thought you'd be asking if there was a way out of losing the deposit or something. Since you understand that's lost, I'll bet the landlord will be happy to take the deposit and start looking for someone else. IANAL, but it doesn't seem you'd be liable for anything else; a rental application =/= a contract. But be sure to phone a housing lawyer or two on Tuesday; most will offer a free consultation over the phone to clarify the legal issues.

Btw, rude contracts are pretty much standard operating procedure; it's not unheard of for tenants to counter-propose a version that seems more fair. The landlord might not be willing to budge, but there's nothing wrong with saying, "You know, we were thinking about clause II.E.7 and we'd like to change it a bit..."
posted by mediareport at 6:18 PM on May 28, 2005


I was under the impression that you would get the deposit back if you didn't sign the lease, but I could be completely wrong.
posted by elisabeth r at 6:21 PM on May 28, 2005


Actually, elisabeth r, that makes sense. I was thinking of an application fee.
posted by mediareport at 6:38 PM on May 28, 2005


You should get your deposit back, too. You may have made a nominal agreement, but with the terms in the contract presented to you were a unilateral change to what you agreed upon: nullifying the previous agreement.

Your agreement was not unconditional, but could be presumed to depend upon legal standards of reasonableness. Clearly, the contract was an abrogation of that presumption.
posted by curtm at 7:36 PM on May 28, 2005


Actually, they did not cash the check for the first part of the security deposit yet, but I bet they will, and I doubt I can dispute that. They asked for it in order to put a hold on the apartment. This is a large apartment building with its own management company, and they have had this apartment empty for some time.

This is our first rental, so we really don't know much about the legal aspects. We made a mistake when we jumped into accepting this offer, but I prefer losing $200, over paying $6000 extra/year just to end up living with a construction zone nearby etc.

In my logic, as long as we did not sign a contract, they cannot hold us liable for more than the loss of rental income for the 2 weeks since we said yes. That would amount to more than $200, but I don't think it would hold up in court.

curtm, could you, please, explain the meaning of your last paragraph?
posted by Ervin at 7:42 PM on May 28, 2005


Sorry, curtm, please don't bother. I have re-read your post a few times and I've got the meaning.
posted by Ervin at 7:46 PM on May 28, 2005


If you're OK losing the $200, you should just put a stop on the check and then be OK losing just the fee for that; you have no obligation to them.

Seriously -- tenants are treated exactly this way every day because tenants have little in the way of rights that allow you to not be treated this way. So in your instance, exercise the rights you do have, which are that you are contractually obligated to not a red cent yet, and since you are dissatisfied with the terms of the contract, you want out of the entire arrangement.
posted by delfuego at 7:53 PM on May 28, 2005


Hehe, delfuego, I have thought about that but, since I have no idea about the legal aspects of putting a stop on a check, I'd prefer counting my losses instead of comitting a misdemeanor or more.

I am just a foreigner in the US, and I don't know the rules yet. :-(

If, after they cash the check, I find out that it was an abuse, I will sue them in small claims court. I just don't want to be the one that's on the wrong side of the law.
posted by Ervin at 8:06 PM on May 28, 2005


This article should be helpful. Basically, you can't get the $200 back, but they can't legally charge you anything else if you did not sign the lease.
posted by Ruki at 9:01 PM on May 28, 2005


In my various rentals in Germany, UK, and South Africa, I've had professional support (corporate moves), and was encouraged to negotiate the terms of leases. I've never had the support, nor attempted to negotiate details of a lease in the States. I wonder if its even possible?

I have played serious hard ball in the UK and SA (learned from German mistakes in part, and being in English makes it easier), and I get nearly everything I ask for. Here in SA, they are very sloppy and the contracts simply don't say what they mean.

If you have any interest remaining in this apartment, I'd suggest getting a standard lease and comparing the two. Then feel comfortable asking for things to be changed to reflect the standard lease.

I've never lived in PA, so I'm clueless about the laws there, but in California, leases were quite reasonable. Landlords have tons of responsibilities, by law. Some management companies like to try to convince you their lease trumps state law, but that's usually not the case AFAIK. IANAL!
posted by Goofyy at 1:54 AM on May 29, 2005


Outside of its financial terms, i.e., a certain amount of rent for a certain number of months, you shouldn't worry yourself very much about your apartment lease. The actual non-financial rights and obligations of landlord and residential tenant are more or less fixed by law and custom, and they're largely in favor of the tenant.

Most of the things that seem one-sided to you (like the ability of the landlord to impose and enforce "rules" and to enter your apartment when needed) are actually things which in practice benefit you and every other decent tenant.

Rules (and flexbility of enforcement thereof) are basically enforced only against the odd eccentric or degenerate who slips past the leasing agent and then tries to move in their 20 cats or have parties that last past four a.m. or piles of pest-attracting garbage to their ceiling.

The right to enter the apartment and things of that nature are also good for you -- the last thing you want when your upstairs neighbor leaves his bathroom sink on before he goes skiing for a long weekend is for the landlord NOT to able to enter his apartment to shut the faucet and mop up the water which would otherwise leak down to ruin your stuff.
posted by MattD at 8:03 AM on May 29, 2005


The right to enter the apartment and things of that nature are also good for you -- the last thing you want when your upstairs neighbor leaves his bathroom sink on before he goes skiing for a long weekend is for the landlord NOT to able to enter his apartment to shut the faucet and mop up the water which would otherwise leak down to ruin your stuff.

I've been through five apartments in the past five years, and am looking forward to my sixth this September. In my experience, at least, the standard clause is that the landlord may enter the apartment only after giving written notice to the tenant 24 hours in advance, or in a case of emergency (ie faucet problem). I've had one landlord who didn't adhere to that (walked in pretty much whenever he pleased) and it was possibly the most aggravating thing I've ever experienced.
posted by Ryvar at 12:23 PM on May 29, 2005


Oh, one other thing:

In my various rentals in Germany, UK, and South Africa, I've had professional support (corporate moves), and was encouraged to negotiate the terms of leases. I've never had the support, nor attempted to negotiate details of a lease in the States. I wonder if its even possible?

It is, at least a bit, but it can be somewhat trying. Our current apartment is a rather nice one in a big (60+ building) complex owned by a large company with several such complexes throughout the northeast. Not exactly the kind of situation where you think you'd be able to negotiate terms. We'd just picked up a waterbed, though, and didn't want to give it up despite the apartment we were going to move into being on the third floor. We went back and forth on the issue with them a few times, not even playing hardball, and they wrote up a disclaimer holding us (or our renter's insurance) responsible for any damages resulting from the waterbed. Also even the large complexes will often drop the rent $50/yr or nullify an annual rent increase if it means they'll lose you (this does not apply to complexes overflowing with applications, obviously). Changing apartments every year you see this a lot.

When it comes to apartments under ownership by an individual landlord, negotiating nearly any terms is as easy in the US as anywhere else.
posted by Ryvar at 12:48 PM on May 29, 2005


I've had one landlord who didn't adhere to that (walked in pretty much whenever he pleased) and it was possibly the most aggravating thing I've ever experienced.

And I should think it's also an awfully good way for the landlord to get himself shot. And rightfully so, IMO.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:36 PM on May 29, 2005


Legalities aside, it seems to me that it's fair to give up the $200 deposit. Yes, you could argue that the contract terms were unilateral change, but the reality is that you did get something for the $200 - they held the apartment for you.

And, to echo everyone else, if you didn't sign the contract, you're not obligated to take the apartment. Even if there is language in the application form that seems to commit you (presumably there is not), legally there is no way that signing the application form is binding (that's the point of the contract, which you had not seen at that point).
posted by WestCoaster at 3:05 PM on May 29, 2005


« Older Portrait mode problems with Photoshop CS Raw...   |   Chihuahua Ear Infection Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.