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

UPDATED: Aug 3, 2011

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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


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.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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