Potential clients frequently ask me why they should not buy contract forms online or from an office supply store. Why pay for an attorney when I can buy a legal form for a nominal fee? I understand the inclination to go online because its entirely at your convenience and it is undoubtedly cheaper. However, this comes at a potentially high cost. Legals forms do not always comply with all legal requirements for a given industry and location (federal, state and local). The danger you expose yourself to by avoiding working with a lawyer is the unknown. It is the risks you don’t realize you are taking that frequently come back to bite you the hardest. I am writing this blog today as a cautionary tale why such forms should be avoided because of a recent conversation I had with a potential client.
The Form Office Lease
Last week a potential client came into my office with a complaint that a former tenant had recently filed against him. The tenant claimed damages against the landlord because the lease did not comply with the Philadelphia Lead Disclosure & Certification Law. This law applies to any dust, dirt/soil, paint, and as of March 1 pipes that drinking water may pass through. If the allegations set forth in the complaint are true, the landlord will have to refund all rents received during the rental period, pay for his tenant’s attorneys’ fees and other fines up to $2,000. The landlord in this case thought he followed all of the rules. He even showed me the lead based paint disclosure form that came with his form lease. Unfortunately, Philadelphia has very specific requirements concerning lead disclosures for buildings that were built prior to 1978. Moreover, not only are there requirements for what has to be disclosed; but the manner in which disclosures must be made are also regulated by code. In fact, this is such a prevalent problem in Philadelphia because it is such and old city that it has an excellent publication on this topic. Click here for Philadelphia Landlord’s Guide to Lead Disclosure. While, the form lease that was purchased at the chain office supply store might have complied with Pennsylvania state law, it did not satisfy the Philadelphia Code and this will be an unfortunate and expensive lesson for this landlord.