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

LESSEE: Tenant

LESSOR: Landlord

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.

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