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Every year, Penn upperclassmen take part in the off-campus housing game. They call brokers at various real estate companies, obtain a list of available houses or apartments and begin their own personal scavenger hunt for that perfect living space.

However, students often fall into the trap of being too naive and signing off on what looks like an ideal situation. ­Soon they find out that they glossed over the extra $150 monthly charge for a simple appliance or that they were responsible for that archaic heating pipe that burst in the middle of winter.

Ross Silver, a 1984 College and Wharton alumnus and partner in the legal firm Fried Frank’s New York office, offered some words of wisdom for students looking at off-campus properties.

Silver, who lived in Hamilton Court while attending Penn, said based on his experience, leases tend to favor landlords and students need to take a “common-sense approach” when looking at the terms.

He emphasized that students must make sure the lease length, rent price and tenant responsibility are reflected clearly in the lease.

Silver also stressed that students should look out for “hidden charges” and the damages and problems the landlord is responsible for, such as a pipe bursting or an appliance not working.

“If you’re expecting that you’re getting some service from the landlord — even if it’s obvious stuff like water, electricity, heat and air conditioning — don’t take a hand-shake deal,” Silver said.

“It’s got to be set forth in the lease,” he added. “Otherwise, you are going to put yourself in a real bind if there is ever a problem in the future.”

Silver also said a student should try to make sure he has the option of renewing the lease for the following year at the current price.

He warned that if the renewal option was not explicitly stated in lease, the landlord could “play the game of leverage” and hike up the rent for the subsequent year.

“Everything in the world is negotiable,” Silver said. “In any transaction you are doing, you should do a little legwork and some research.”

See more articles in our off-campus guide here or return to the Housing Guide home page

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