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We offer the first large scale descriptive study of residential leases, based on a dataset of ~170,000 residential leases filed in support of over ~200,000 Philadelphia eviction proceedings from 2005 through 2019. These leases are highly likely to contain unenforceable terms, and their pro-landlord tilt has increased sharply over time. Matching leases with individual tenant characteristics, we show that unlawful terms are surprisingly likely to be associated with more expensive leaseholds in richer, whiter parts of the city. This result is linked to landlords' growing adoption of shared forms, originally created by non-profit landlord associations, and more recently available online for a nominal fee.

Generally, such shared form leases contain worse rules for tenants than the proprietary leases they replace. Over time, it has become easier and cheaper for landlords to adopt such common forms, meaning that access to justice for landlords strips tenants of rights. We observe few within landlord effects: rather, property owners specialize in particular areas in the city. This specialization leads black tenants to be more susceptible to eviction based on crime or drug use on the premises, an effect concentrated in whiter neighborhoods. Our results offer a significant advance in the empirical study of consumer contracting, building the field by examining individual differences in adherents, geography-effects, information costs and time trends.


leases, contracts, consumer contracts, forms, innovation, geography, drafting costs, evictions, landlords, philadelphia