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My refrigerator's not working. It's more like the outlet next to the refrigerator; for some reason it only works two days a week (seriously) and keeps blowing some circuit. The refrigerator before this made a lake on my floor every day for a month until it was replaced.

It's been an odyssey trying to get this thing fixed. I had a fit of frustration this week when I had multiple refrigerators cluttering my kitchen with no way to reach my stove. My landlord didn't return my phone calls, then got upset at me when I went to her office to schedule a time for the fridge to be picked up. (I always want to be home when the workmen come because they've left my apartment unlocked in the past.)

So I pulled out my lease, thinking that would defend me from her anger. But when I read the document more closely, it turns out she's perfectly within her rights. Upon further examination and research, I figured out that there are plenty more - shall we say - questionable clauses in my lease.

Now, I'm not dumb. I read my lease thoroughly before I signed it and tried to understand everything. But given that I wasn't intimately familiar with the regulations governing a landlord-tenant relationship, I didn't know that certain clauses weren't legit.

I'm not alone. Given that it's the prime season for finding your off-campus housing for next year, I thought I'd head down to our office of Off-Campus Living and see whether my instincts were correct.

"The lease contains a story that is always favorable to the landlord, because it is written by the landlord," said Miki Farcas, director of Off-Campus Services. "It is up to the tenant to write their own story" by putting requests in writing, negotiating the lease before signing and understanding Philadelphia ordinances in order to advocate for yourself.

One option is to submit your lease to the office of Off-Campus Living for review before you sign it. You may think you have good common sense, but I promise that you're not as familiar with the Philly regulations and the landlords around here as the folks at OCL. Many students already take advantage of this opportunity, but more should.

"A lease is a legal document," said Barbara Lea-Kruger, spokeswoman for Business Services. "Think before you sign," she continued - because once you've signed, unless a clause is blatantly illegal, you're stuck with what you agreed to.

For example, I may have been able to negotiate with my landlord to require that she give me 24 hours' notice before her workmen enter my apartment (excluding emergencies of course) so I can plan to be home. But since the clause isn't clearly illegal (tenants only have a debatable "right to privacy"), there's nothing I can do about it now that my name's on the line in my best cursive.

The University City housing market isn't favorable to renters. For the same price my roommate and I are paying for a basic two-bedroom apartment in the Penn patrol zone, we could get a newly-renovated two-bedroom apartment in Manayunk with many amenities or a four-bedroom house on 48th and Hazel. (Yes, this is what I Google in my spare time.)

But take heart, those who already live off campus: Your landlord can't raise your rent as long as there are housing code violations. (My recommendation: Learn the housing code and then argue vociferously with your landlord when he or she tries to up the cost. Chances are your apartment's got something wrong with it. Milk that for what it's worth.)

"There's a lot more responsibility, period, when you move off campus," said Farcas. This is exciting, but it's also a serious commitment. The real world isn't as lenient as the Penn dorms, and you have to be more respectful toward your neighbors, who may be long past their kegger days and would prefer to go to bed before 2 a.m. on Saturday night.

West Philly is a charming, vibrant neighborhood - don't let dumb mistakes get in the way of your enjoyment living here.

Hanging out in Clark Park is much more fun than hanging around in your living room waiting for the refrigerator repairman to show up.

Meredith Aska McBride is a College junior from Wauwatosa, Wis. Her e-mail address is Radical Chic appears every Tuesday.

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