Is it legal for a landlord to keep first months rent without the tenant signing any lease or legal document?

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Is it legal for a landlord to keep first months rent without the tenant signing any lease or legal document?

I paid security for an apartment after being approved, and that was all that was required of me. About a month after I was planning to move in but still hadn’t moved from my previous state due to issues with my job, I paid first months rent because my landlord said that I had to to because he was losing out on money. Later on I had to withdraw my app, and he refused to give me back the 1st months rent because he was “broke” and I had to wait until he had the money. I never signed a lease or agreed to month-month rent verbally. It has now been 6 months. Is it legal for him to keep 1st month?

Asked on August 3, 2011 Pennsylvania

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

The issue will be whether or not, on the basis of your behavior, a court could find that you did in fact agree to a month-to-month rental. Contracts can be formed on the basis of behavior by a party, which can be considered to show acceptance of them; it is not alway necessary for an explicit oral or written agreement. It may well be that act of paying the first month's rent will be taken as agreement to rent the premises--after all, no one pays rent unless they are renting space--and therefore, even without your explicit oral or written agreement, a month-to-month lease was formed. In that instance, the landlord could certainly keep the first month's rent. The fact that you did not move in is irrelevant; it is agreement to lease or rent a premises, not physically moving in, that creates a lease and the landlord-tenant relationship.


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