Almost everyone has rented a house or apartment during their lives. Only a few people, however, read—let alone understand—their leases. Also, landlords often put clauses into leases that, if only the tenant had a better understanding of law, would not be enforceable in court. This article will address some of the issues that often come up between residential landlords and tenants. If you feel that one of these issues applies to the situation with your landlord, contract our office via our website (http://wisephiladelphialawyer.com) or telephone (215-489-4530) for assistance. After reading this article, you will have a better understanding of your rights and obligations under the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
In general, the rights and obligations of the parties to a residential lease are governed by the terms of the written or oral lease. A lease is simply a contract and is governed by general contract law. However, traditionally, residential landlords and tenants have had unequal bargaining power when it came to the ability to negotiate a residential lease. Landlords used this unequal bargaining power to their advantage and exploited tenants. Recognizing this problem, many state legislatures stepped in and codified protections and rights for tenants to prevent exploitation and to protect the places where people live.
Some of these laws, enacted by the Pennsylvania Legislature, may or may not be reflected in your lease. Some of these laws may override a specific provision in your lease, making that provision in your lease unenforceable by the courts. Some of the most common situations of dispute between residential landlords and tenants are listed below.
The landlord is required by law to keep the premises in livable condition. This is known as the warranty of habitability. Leases will differ as to which systems and conditions of the house are the responsibility of the tenant, but any of the systems that malfunction and create an unlivable condition could be classified as a breach of the lease by the landlord. Systems that, if are they are not working properly, could lead to a premises being inhabitable include the water, sewer, heat, gas, leaking roofs and windows, etc.
If one of these things goes wrong in the place that you rent, notify your landlord immediately in writing by certified mail. If the landlord does not fix the problem promptly, or does so in a way that fails to cure the defect, there may be a way for you to terminate your lease as a result of the landlord’s breach.
In Pennsylvania, no landlord can require a deposit sum in excess of two months’ rent as a security deposit during the first year of the lease. During the second and subsequent years of the lease or during a renewal of the original lease, the amount of a security deposit cannot be more than one month’s rent. Furthermore, the landlord is required to notify you in writing of the name and address of the banking institution where your deposit is held.
Within thirty days of the expiration of the lease, a landlord must return the security deposit or provide to a tenant a written list of any damages to the premises for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable. Delivery of the list must be accompanied by payment of the difference between any sum deposited in escrow and the actual amount of damages to the leasehold caused by the tenant. This does not preclude the landlord, however, from refusing to return the deposit, for nonpayment of rent or the breach of any other condition by the tenant but the tenant must be notified in writing.
If a landlord fails to provide a written list within thirty days, as required, the landlord forfeits all rights to withhold any portion of the sums held in deposit or to bring suit against the tent for damages to the premises. If the landlord fails to pay the amount required back to the tenant within 30 days after the termination of the lease, the landlord is liable for double the amount of the original security deposit. The landlord nor the tenant can waive any of these statutes in the lease.
Eviction is a judicial process that often takes many months. A landlord cannot throw you out of your home by changing the locks. A lawsuit must be filed and a court order must be entered. Prior to filing the suit, a landlord is required to give the tenant 30 days’ notice. Once notice is received, the tenant has a number of days to “cure” the default, thereby stopping any eviction proceeding. For example, if a landlord begins eviction proceedings for nonpayment of rent a tenant may pay the back rent due and the tenant will not be evicted.
Landlords can initiate eviction proceedings for a number of reasons, but the most common are nonpayment of rent or a breach of a provision in the lease.
Many residential leases include terms that involve early termination of the leases. Of the many residential leases we have seen, some of these provisions involving early termination follow the law and are enforceable while others will not be enforced by the Court.
Many flat fees for early termination of a lease will not be enforced by the courts. In any contract, a court will not enforce a term in the contract that is punitive (punishing) in nature. In terms of a residential lease, the most a landlord could possibly collect in Court for the early termination of a lease is equal to the amount left on the lease. Any provision that requires an amount for early termination that is greater than the amount of rent due on the lease is invalid. Also, the landlord has an obligation to mitigate their damages by actively trying to find another tenant. For the landlord to recover the amount left on the lease, the landlord must prove to the Court that they tried to rent the apartment (by advertising the apartment, etc.) and could not find a suitable tenant.
You may be a “just” a tenant, but the law respects the place where you live and gives you rights that many people do not know about. Many of the remedies listed above may require litigation for a tenant to realize their rights under the law but there is no reason to be scared of the court system. An attorney can help you recover the money that is rightfully yours and is being illegally taken from you by your landlord.
This article can only address some of the issues that come up between landlords and tenants. If you suspect that your landlord may be violating your rights in any of ways listed above or in any other way, please do not hesitate to contact the Wise Law Offices via telephone (215-989-4530) or our website (http://wisephiladelphialawyer.com).