Making Sense of Your Lease
Reading over a lease can be nerve racking. You have to scrutinize every clause in order to make sure you will be comfortable in your apartment, but how can you do that when it seems like it's written in another language?! According to the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), Office of Residential Services, leases are written in another language... or at least a language of another century. "Leases were developed in medieval Britain and some of the language used in them dates from that time, much to the confusion and mystification of modern tenants."
In order to make leases easier to understand, WPI redefined many of the potentially confusing terms.
ARREARS: Overdue rent
ASSIGN: Transfer the unexpired portion of a lease to a new tenant
CAUSE OF ACTION: Specific situation that may become the basis for a lawsuit
CIVIL: A non-criminal legal matter. Housing disputes are generally handled in civil courts
COVENANT: Promise. Independent covenant: You must perform your obligation even if the other party does not. Dependent covenant: You carry out your obligation on the condition that the other party fulfills its obligation
DEFAULT: To forfeit or lose by omission; to fail to perform a legal obligation
DEMISED PREMISES: The place being rented
DETAINER: Withholding another's property against his or her will
DISPOSSESS: Remove a person from land; the legal action brought for nonpayment of rent
DISTRAINT (proceed by distress): The landlord takes your personal property to force you to pay or eventually sells it to get his or her money
EJECTMENT: Physical or legal eviction from land
EMURE: To take effect
ENJOYMENT: Possession or occupation of land. Quiet enjoyment: freedom from invasion of privacy by landlord
EVICTION: Depriving a person of possession of occupancy. Constructive eviction: not actually removing a tenant but making it impossible for him or her to remain because of the conditions, such as serious deterioration
GOODS AND CHATTELS: Personal property
INDEMNIFY AND HOLD HARMLESS: To free from any responsibility or liability
INURE: Take effect
LEASE: A type of legal agreement establishing a landlord-tenant relationship
LIABILITY: Responsibility, loss; a negative element
NOTICE TO QUIT: Notification from the landlord to tenant ordering tenant off the property, usually after thirty days from the first day of the rental period
NOTICE TO VACATE: Notification from the tenant to the landlord stating the tenant's intention to leave the property, usually after thirty days from the first day of the rental period
PARTIES TO A LEASE: Those who agree to abide by the provisions of a lease; typically you as a tenant, any roommates, and the landlord
POSSESSION: Lawful occupation and use of the land, subject to protections of "quiet enjoyment"
REPLEVIN: Legal action to recover property that was unlawfully seized
SUBLET: Agreeing to permit someone to use a rented property for a term less that the full term of the lease, and to be paid for that permission
SUMMARY PROCEEDING (to recover possession): Eviction. It is called "summary proceeding" because it is a swift and simple procedure for the landlord
TENANT AT SUFFERANCE: A tenant who has remained in a unit after a lease or tenancy at will agreement has expired or was terminated
TENANT WITHOUT A LEASE: A tenant with the landlord's consent to occupy a premises without a lease
TENANT WITH A LEASE: A tenant with a contract that allows for a certain length of occupancy at a set rent
TERM OF LEASE: The length of time that a lease shall be in effect; duration of obligation
WAIVER: Relinquishment of a right, agreeing to give up something to which you are entitled
WARRANTY OF HABITABILITY: Promise that the property is safe and usable for residential use.
Hopefully these definitions will help you make it through the reading of your lease. If you still feel like you don't understand the terms of your lease, don't feel like you can't ask questions. This is YOUR lease for YOUR apartment, so don't sign anything you don't completely understand.