Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Law
The landlord-tenant relationship is often complex and nuanced. Disputes between landlords and tenants can quickly become severe for both parties. The fallout from a court battle could mean a loss in business and expensive fines for landlords. On the other end, tenants could lose their homes and their credit score could suffer, setting them up for hard times when searching for a new home.
Whether you’re a landlord or a tenant, you should typically be able to deal with legal issues without going to court. Some landlord-tenant disputes will leave you with no other option. Both parties need to know the basics of renting out a place, how to collect or pay security deposits, about fair housing laws, etc. This overview of key Pennsylvania landlord-tenant laws will help guide you.
The lease agreement is the foundation of the landlord-tenant relationship. It is a legally binding contract detailing the responsibilities both the landlord and the tenant promise to uphold. In addition to specifics like amenities, renovations and other apartment features, the lease includes legal details like:
- Grounds for lease termination and eviction.
- Roommate and guest policies.
- The length of the leasing term (weeks, months or years).
- The security deposit amount and what it covers.
- Repair policy and procedures.
- The rent rate and payment schedule.
Pennsylvania Fair Housing Laws
Fair housing laws prohibit landlords from discriminating against tenants based on characteristics that are protected in Pennsylvania’s Human Relations Act. Specific actions like charging an unusually high rent or reserving services for a different group of tenants may be considered discriminatory if the landlord does these things because of a tenant’s:
- National origin
- Marital status
- Familial status
Responsibility for Repairs
The lease agreement assigns responsibilities to both the landlord and tenant for repairing damages to the property. If the lease doesn’t assign responsibility for a repair, the local municipality’s housing code may assign the responsibility.
In general, the tenant is responsible for maintaining the rental unit and remedying all standard wear and tear. The tenant is also usually responsible for repairing any damages that they or their dependents have caused. Larger repair jobs are typically the landlord’s responsibility.
There are situations in which tenants may deduct the repair costs from their rent for repairs that are usually the landlord’s responsibility. Under Pennsylvania law, the tenant must inform the landlord of any damages that need repair. If the landlord fails to make a repair in 14 days, the tenant may make the repair themselves or hire a handyman to make the repair, submit an invoice of the repair charges to the landlord and deduct the costs from their next rent payment.
If the damages need to be repaired quickly to prevent further damage, tenants may make the immediate repairs, send an invoice to the landlord, and deduct the costs from their rent. However, note that tenants who deduct or withhold any portion of their rent may face eviction due to non-payment of rent.
Landlords often charge new tenants a security deposit as a part of the lease agreement. The deposit is set aside in a separate bank account from the landlord’s other holdings. Landlords use the deposit to cover any unpaid rent and repairs to damages beyond typical wear and tear.
Typically, landlords will charge one month’s rent as the security deposit. However, the security deposit does not count as the tenant’s last month’s rent. Under Pennsylvania law, landlords are not allowed to charge more than two months’ rent for the security deposit.
At the end of the leasing term, landlords are required to return the full security deposit amount to the tenant within 30 days after the tenant moves out. If deductions must be made for repairs or unpaid rent, the landlord must deliver a written notification to the tenant detailing the specific charges within the same 30-day period.
Getting Legal Help from a Pennsylvania Attorney
While many landlord-tenant conflicts can be resolved without going to court, the laws involved in these conflicts are complex. If you find you are in need of legal counsel or advice, you should consider hiring a landlord-tenant lawyer to represent your interests.