Know Your Rights
Know Your Rights When Moving or Living Off Campus
To get the most out of your off-campus living experience, know your rights and responsibilities as a tenant. We include some of the most common issues here--inspecting for damages, security deposits, subleases, and assignments.
Signing a lease? Start here.
Getting ready to sign a lease? Check out this on-demand educational module with important information about your rights and responsibilities before you sign. For a 1:1 consultation with a lawyer before you sign, request an appointment with Student Legal Services.
An undergraduate intern shares tips on how to get your security deposit back in a short video.
Common issues and questions
We include some of the most common issues and questions related to your rights and responsibilities as a tenant--inspecting for damages, security deposits, subleases, and assignments.
- Inspect for damages when moving in and out
Damages caused by previous tenants may exist in any rental. The inspection or damage checklist is very important to complete, as it is a way of protecting your security deposit against claims of damage that existed prior to your living on the premises.
Tenants and landlords should complete a damage checklist before moving into and out of a rental unit to document that both parties agree on the condition of the rental unit and to reduce misunderstandings.
Once your checklist is complete, you should sign and date the original, have two or three witnesses who are not your roommates sign/date, and submit to your landlord for signature and date. Retain one copy for yourself and give the other copy to the landlord. If your landlord refuses to sign the damage list, you may want to have your signature notarized for date verification.
Take pictures or use video recording to document the damages and general condition of the premises.
When moving out, check the lease and any move out packet to ensure the apartment has been thoroughly cleaned per the rental agreement. If possible, ask the landlord to walk through the apartment with you.
Some damages to record include the following:
- Water damage or leaks
- Chips or holes
- Broken or lost fixtures
- General cleanliness
- Pest infestation
- Items remaining on the premises that should not be there
You will also want to make sure the following are in good working conditions:
- Light fixtures and outlets
- Screens and window/door locks
- Kitchen/bath exhaust fan
- Smoke detectors
- Heating/cooling units
If your apartment is furnished, inspect all furniture for rips or tears to fabric, usability, cleanliness, and general condition.
Remember: Prepare a checklist and take photos when you move in and when you move out.
- Areas and items to inspect
Kitchen -- Refrigerator, Stove, Exhaust Fan, Garbage Disposal, Sink, Cupboards (inside and out), Lights, Electrical Outlets, Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Closet (pantry), Other.
Living Room -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Closets (if applicable), Lights, Electrical Outlets, Furniture (if applicable), Other.
Dining Room -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Lights, Electrical Outlets, Furniture (if applicable), Other.
Bathroom(s) -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Toilet, Sink, Tub/Shower, Tile/Grout, Lights, Electrical Outlets, Closet, Other.
All Bedrooms -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Closets, Lights, Electrical Outlets, Furniture (if applicable), Other.
Basement -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Windows, Window Treatments, Lights, Outlets, Appliances, Dryness, Other.
Hallways -- Flooring, Ceiling, Walls, Stairways, Closets, Lights, Other
Outdoor Areas -- Sidewalks, Railings, Porch/Steps, Doorbell, Mailbox, Lights, Other
- Security Deposits
Amount of the Deposit
During the first year of a residential lease, the law limits the amount that may be required for a security deposit to no more than two months' rent. Once you are in the second year of a lease, only one months' rent can be required for a security deposit. If the security deposit is over $100, the landlord is required to tell you the name and address of the financial institution where the money is deposited.
On funds held for more than two years, any amount over $100 must be deposited in an interest-bearing account. When money is required to be deposited into an interest-bearing savings account, the landlord is entitled to receive one percent of the interest on the account for administrative expenses; the balance of the interest paid must then be returned to the tenant annually after the second anniversary date of the commencement of the lease.
If the tenancy exceeds five years, the landlord can not raise the amount of security deposit being held, even if your monthly rent has gone up.
Return of the Deposit
When you move out, be sure to turn in your written forwarding address to your landlord. The landlord then has thirty days to provide you with an itemized list of any damages for which they are withholding money, and any balance due to you from your security deposit.
The landlord can only keep your security deposit for unpaid rent and actual damages.
If an item in the apartment needs to be replaced due to damage, the price of the item should be depreciated to reflect the age of the item. The landlord cannot ask for the price of a brand new replacement item.
If you disagree with the landlord as to damage or charges, send a letter by certified mail to the landlord, property manager, and/or owner of the unit. Keep this letter professional and explain exactly which charges you disagree with and the amount of your deposit you think you are entitled to receive.
- Sublets and lease assignments
Most leases in the State College area allow the landlord to decide whether to allow you to sublet or assign your lease. Be sure to check your lease, and, if required, get permission from your landlord before subletting, including short term sublets like Airbnb. Assignments of your lease will always require the involvement of your landlord.
When you sublet your apartment, you sign a contract with your subletter and you become their landlord. Your original lease does not go away. If your subletter does not pay rent or damages the apartment, the landlord can hold you responsible.
An assignment of your lease means that the new person enters into a contract directly with the landlord, but you are still responsible for the rental payments or damages. When the term "assignment" is used locally, it typically refers to a lease novation. That is, most assignment contracts will also release the original tenant from their original obligations under the lease, so that, if the new tenant damages the apartment or fails to pay rent, you are not responsible.
Enter into a sublet agreement cautiously--you have more financial risk in these arrangements than just the rent. If you decide to sublet, get the agreement in writing. Rental contracts are not simple documents; to ensure you have a valid contract, work with an attorney. Student Legal Services is not able to draft or review sublet contracts.
If you do sublet, you are a landlord, and must follow Pennsylvania law. This includes things like whether you have the right to enter the apartment, what you can do to evict someone for non-payment of rent, how you manage any security deposit in accordance with Pennsylvania law, and what you must do if the tenant leaves personal property behind.
- Preparing to leave for extended break
How to prepare to leave for break:
- Review your lease to verify if there are any expectations from your landlord that are explicitly stated. Common lease provisions relating to extended breaks include notifying your landlord when you will be gone and specific measures to prevent pipes from freezing. If anything is unclear, you can consult an attorney through Student Legal Services for a free lease review.
- Keep your heat running to ensure pipes do not freeze and cause damage. If your lease doesn’t specify a required minimum temperature, a good rule of thumb is to keep the temperature set to around 55 degrees. Follow the terms of your lease if it specifies additional measures designed to prevent frozen pipes such as leaving cupboard doors open or setting the faucets to a small drip.
- Dispose of any food items that will expire while you are away. Take out the trash and wash and put away dishes.
- Unplug electrical items that will not be in use. You can leave major appliances like refrigerators and stoves plugged in.
- Make sure anything flammable like furniture, clothing, or bedding is pulled away from heat sources.
- Check for leaks or other maintenance issues and report them to your landlord or maintenance.
- If you have renter’s insurance, verify that it is active and up to date. If you don’t, consider purchasing a policy that covers personal property and liability.
- Lock all windows and doors and ensure sliding doors are secured.
- If leaving a vehicle behind, make sure it is locked and remove any valuables. Verify that it is parked in a location where it will not be ticketed or towed.
- If you have a trusted friend or neighbor who will still be in town over break, ask them to check on your apartment while you’re gone.