Check out some commonly asked questions that were answered by University and community partners at the Fall 2023 Tenant Townhall!

What are our rights as PA tenants in Oakland?

All tenants in PA have rights including the right to a safe, sanitary, and habitable home. This does not need to be explicitly stated in the lease and landlords have an obligation to fix these issues. Be sure to communicate in writing to landlords about any issues that arise. Tenants should also be given a receipt of the security deposit within 30 days as well as a specific list of what money has been spent on. Landlords are also not allowed to discriminate based on any characteristics or identities.

Where should tenants go if they experience a refusal to fix issues?

This depends on the issue at hand. You can withhold a portion of rent if something is broken or lost however this is strongly not recommended. You may also reach out to 311 or the city as they have more enforcement power. 
assist you.

What are some red flags while looking at leases and apartments?

When reviewing apartments it is essential to keep an eye out for red flags. Be sure to tour the apartment you are leasing before signing the lease. If the landlord will not give you a tour or they give you a tour of a separate apartment, that is a red flag and should be avoided. When moving in, be sure to document any surprises to avoid future surprise fees.

When reviewing leases keep an eye out for a few things. Look out for the term “as is” throughout the lease. This can be a sign of something wrong with the property. Also, make sure there are clear instructions about extermination, you don’t want to end up being responsible for it. Additionally, make sure that renter’s insurance is required. You should always have renters insurance – without it, landlords can hold you responsible. Be aware of automatic fees in leases, as these may come as a surprise. Landlords should also not ask for rent in all cash, charge rent per person, or change rent based on whether or not you have a SSN. These are all signs of shady behavior and discriminatory practices. Lastly, avoid landlords that are willing to allow more than 3 unrelated people to live together. This is a sign that the landlord may be willing to break more laws and lead to future legal issues.

What is the solution if a verbal promise is not fulfilled?

As long as a landlord is making reasonable efforts, there is not an issue. Reasonable amount of time varies depending on the context. For example, heaters in the winter should be fixed within 24-48 hours but an AC may take longer to fix in winter. Response time always has to be within 30 days. Be sure to screenshot any communications or submissions in an online portal as proof of communication. View the question above about landlords refusing to fix issues for more details.

Is Financial Aid offered for off-campus living?

School financial aid can sometimes be used for off-campus housing. Talk to the Office of Financial Aid for more information.

What is the best way to go about finding apartments in Oakland? What are important signs? What are some places to not go?

Talk to friends, neighbors, other tenants, and people who lived in the area before you to learn more about the landlord and the area. Vet the landlord while touring apartments. Conduct some research on the Oakland neighborhood, plan your budget, and determine the number of roommates before searching for apartments. Oakland is a relatively safe neighborhood but be sure to look into the specific area you are looking to live in. During tours consider the safety of the unit including watching out for basements with no windows as this is in violation of city code. The Pittsburgh Commision on Human Relations provides a lot of resources. College Pads is a great resource to look for individual apartments.

How can I be safe in Oakland?

Always be vigilant and observant – we are in a city. Keep doors and windows locked, and hide valuables. If your windows or doors don’t lock, your landlord is required to fix it. Also, be sure to take out ACs on breaks as they are easy access into your home. Invest in security cameras, and get to know your neighbors, and have them watch your property when you leave. Always stay in groups at night and download the Rave Guardian app. Pitt Police also offers a free self-defense class if interested.

What is the appropriate timeline for renting process?

Figure out roommates by October and start looking for listings as soon as possible. If you are looking for specific things in an apartment the earlier you look the better. Once you tour several apartments and find one you like, review the lease and communicate any issues with the landlord. Sign the lease when everything looks good.

How many unrelated people can live together in a home by law?

Under Pittsburgh law, only 3 unrelated people can live together. In addition to this, any number of related people, plus 2 more people can live together if square footage is large enough. For example, a set of twins can live together with two other people. Unauthorized occupants have no legal responsibility to pay rent, stay there, or pay utilities. Unauthorized occupants are illegal and can lead to you getting kicked out of your lease.

Which University Owned Apartment-Style units are per term leases and which require 12 month Leases?

University Leased Apartments (12 month lease) - Residence on Bigelow, College Gardens, Hyacinth Place, Darragh Street Apartments (grad students only)

Term leases (two semesters) - Bouquet Gardens, Centre Plaza Apartments, Forbes Craig Apartments, Oakwood Apartments, Ruskin Hall, and the Bridge on Forbes

What are the best sites to search for off campus housing?

We recommend using college pads to start your search as it is catered towards college students and has a lot of great resources. Other sites students use include Zillow and apartments.com.

Answers Were Provided by:
- Center for Financial Education & Wellness
- Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations
- Pitt Pantry
- Neighborhood Legal Services
- Office of Engagement and Community Affairs
- Pitt Police
- Pitt Mobility
- Student Government Board
- Office of Off Campus Student Services