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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The number of unenforceable, anti-tenant clauses in residential leases has risen sharply over the last 20 years — with Black tenants more likely to be targeted, according to the largest-ever study of housing leases.

Why it matters: The types of draconian clauses that have crept into leases make it easier for landlords to evict tenants — who often feel intimidated, don't know the law and can't afford a lawyer in housing court.

  • As pandemic-era evictions moratoria expire, more landlords may be tempted to use these terms to get rid of tenants without due process.

Driving the news: The study by two professors looked at 170,000 leases in Philadelphia from 2005 through 2019 and found them "highly likely to contain unenforceable terms."

  • "Their pro-landlord tilt has increased sharply over time," the study said.
  • A major reason: The growing adoption by landlords of shared lease forms, "originally created by non-profit landlord associations, and more recently available online for a nominal fee."
  • Black tenants tend to be "more susceptible to eviction based on crime or drug use on the premises, an effect concentrated in whiter neighborhoods," the authors found.

Where it stands: While housing law differs by state, the professors found three terms unacceptable in Pennsylvania that have become more common:

  • That the tenant must accept the property "as is" — housing law says it must be habitable.
  • That the tenant can't sue the landlord for negligence — even if the property has unsafe conditions.
  • That the landlord can seize property and charge extra damages if the tenant stays in the premises after the lease expires — a so-called "holdover clause."

What they're saying: "We observed worse [lease] forms over time without really big changes in Pennsylvania law," said one of the study's authors, David Hoffman of the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.

  • While the study didn't look at how the leases with illegal clauses were adjudicated, landlords tend to use the lease terms as a cudgel to coax or bully tenants out, Hoffman tells Axios.
  • For example, when there's a "holdover" clause, landlords can try to avoid eviction court "by saying, 'Hey, if you stay here one more month, you're going to owe us a ton of money, so you better leave,'" Hoffman says.
  • Often, a tenant won't show up at an eviction hearing, so the landlord gets a judgment by default even if the term being violated was illegal.

The big picture: Hoffman and his co-author, Anton Strezhnev of New York University, said that the "nationalization of lease provisions," with landlords downloading shared forms without regard to local laws, is part of the problem.

  • "Twenty to thirty years ago, most leases were basically highly localized products," Strezhnev tells Axios.
  • While the authors only looked at Philly, they consider it likely that the same dynamics are true in other big cities.

The bottom line: This is the first large-scale study of residential leases, and the authors hope its findings open new areas of inquiry for researchers and policymakers.

  • "We don’t have federal lease regulations like some countries do, and the result is that you’re at the mercy of your landlords," Hoffman says.

Go deeper

Scoop: U.S. and Israel to form team to solve consulate dispute

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid (right) meet in Washington. Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The U.S. and Israel are planning to form a joint team to hold discreet negotiations on the reopening of the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: The consulate handled relations with the Palestinians for 25 years before being shut down by then President Donald Trump in 2019. Senior officials in Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett's government see the consulate issue as a political hot potato that could destabilize their unwieldy coalition.

Nikolas Cruz pleads guilty to Parkland school shooting

Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the defense table during jury selection at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 6, 2021. Photo: Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Nikolas Cruz on Wednesday pleaded guilty on all counts for carrying out the 2018 shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 people dead, including 14 students and three staff members.

Driving the news: Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty at a hearing on Wednesday to 17 murder counts and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for carrying out the deadly shooting.

3 hours ago - Health

White House unveils plan to "quickly" vaccinate kids ages 5-11

Charles Muro, 13, is inoculated at Hartford Healthcare's mass vaccination center at the Connecticut Convention Center in Hartford, Conn. Photo: Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty Images

The White House on Wednesday released its plan to vaccinate children between the ages of five and 11, pending authorization from the Food and Drug Administration of the first COVID-19 shot for that age group.

The big picture: The White House said it has secured enough vaccine supply to equip more than 25,000 pediatric and primary care offices, hundreds of school and community health clinics, as well as tens of thousands of pharmacies, to administer the shots.