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Your Rights as a Tenant in PA

18 Sep 2019, by Brandy Benefield in Civil Litigation
Tenant and landlord arguing

Written by Timothy Czekaj

Tenants are often at a disadvantage in their relationships with landlords, who in most cases have more knowledge of the law and more resources to use the law to their advantage. Tenants, on the other hand, are often unaware of their rights and sometimes allow themselves to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous landlords.

If you believe your rights are being trampled by the owner of the property you rent, you should contact a tenant rights attorney immediately to assist with your case. At Czekaj Law, LLC, we pride ourselves in bringing results to our clients in Pennsylvania on a variety of tenant/landlord-related issues. For a free consultation about of case, contact us today at (717) 275-9770.

Tenants May Have More Expansive Rights Than They Think

As a Pennsylvania tenant, federal and state laws provide you with the following rights:

Right to Habitable Housing
The property you rent must meet minimal standards of habitability, and your landlord is responsible for maintaining the premises at that standard. This means that your landlord needs to promptly repair any broken locks, heaters, hot water boilers, plumbing, smoke alarms, or any other fixtures that are required to maintain a basic standard of living. However, it is your responsibility to let the landlord know when problems arise so that they can fix them in a timely manner.

Right to Withhold Rent
If your landlord refuses to or is unable to make the repairs necessary for your home to be habitable, you have the right to stop paying rent. But you need to follow procedure. You must call a city or county housing inspector to view the premises. If the inspector agrees that the premises are uninhabitable, you can place your rent payments into an escrow account until the landlord makes the necessary repairs.

Right to Repair and Deduct
Another option to consider if your landlord refuses to make basic repairs to your home is to make the repairs yourself. But you cannot make repairs to the premises unless you have informed the landlord of a problem. If they refuse to act, you can make reasonable repairs yourself. Reasonable means that the repairs are not too expensive or extensive. Furthermore, the amount of money you deduct for repairs cannot be greater than the amount of rent still left on the lease.

Right to Quiet Enjoyment
You have the right to enjoy your home in peace. This means, among other things, that the landlord cannot treat the premises as if it were theirs. They cannot enter as they please. And if the landlord must come into your home, they must have a legitimate reason such as making repairs, and provide reasonable notice – which is generally 24 hours.

Right to Be Free From Discrimination
When you are searching for an apartment or a home to rent, landlords are prohibited by state and federal law to discriminate against you based on your skin color, race, age, family status, religion, sex, country of origin, age, or pregnancy. If you believe this has happened to you, you may file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Bear in mind that a landlord’s decision to not rent to you based on your past failures to pay rent or bad credit history is not unlawful discrimination.

Right to a Lawful Lease
A long-term lease must be agreed to in writing, and if it contains illegal provisions, a court will not consider them to be binding – even if you signed it. Plenty of lease agreements in Pennsylvania contain unlawful provisions such as an absolute ban on children or animals (service animals must be allowed on the premises). Furthermore, a landlord cannot legally place limitations on the amount of guests you have, or forbid you from having people spend the night.

Right to Security Deposit Transparency
For a one-year lease, a landlord can collect the equivalent of up to two months’ rent as a security deposit. But if you stay at the property for longer, the landlord can only keep the equivalent of one month’s rent as a deposit. After two years, you have the right to charge your landlord interest on the security deposit they are withholding from you. Your security deposit – and those of any other tenants – must be held in a separate account and cannot be commingled with the landlord’s personal funds. 30 days after you leave the property, your landlord must return the security deposit back to you. Any damages they deduct from the security deposit must be clearly itemized. If the landlord doesn’t explain the deductions, you have the right to sue the landlord for twice the deposit amount.

Right to Receive Notice of Lease Termination
Your landlord must give you at least 15 days’ notice of their intention to not renew your lease. If your lease covered a term greater than a year, then the landlord must give you at least 30 days’ notice.

Right to Be Free From Retaliation
If you attempt to exercise your tenant rights, your landlord might threaten you. This is unlawful, and if this happens to you, you should contact a tenant rights attorney as soon as possible. You are lawfully permitted to complain about uninhabitable conditions or improper behavior from your landlord. If they retaliate against you by raising your rent or threatening eviction, they could be subject to civil liability.

Right to Be Free From Unlawful Eviction
In extreme cases, a landlord may retaliate by trying to evict you. But the eviction process is governed by strict procedures. Your landlord must draft and deliver a notice to vacate the premises – either personally or in a place you will clearly find it. The notice must explain the reason why you are being evicted, and give you 10 days to leave the premises. If you refuse, then your landlord may file an eviction lawsuit and ask the court to order your departure. If you lose the eviction hearing, you have 10 days to appeal the decision, during which time you are entitled to stay on the premises.

Remember to Read the Lease Agreement

Many of the aforementioned rights and/or procedures are able to be modified by the controlling lease agreement. Your landlord should always provide you with a copy of the fully signed lease. While many details will be governed by the lease, some basic necessities are guaranteed, despite what the lease may say. It is always important to consult with an attorney if you are unsure which terms of the lease are controlling, and which may be a bit over-the-top.

Get Help from a Pennsylvania Tenant Rights Attorney

If at any point you do not feel that you are able to safely or effectively assert your tenant rights, it may be time to contact a lawyer. This doesn’t necessarily mean you will be going to court over your issues with your landlord. Sometimes, a properly worded demand letter is enough to resolve a dispute between a landlord and a tenant. To learn more about how an attorney can help you with your landlord problems, call Czekaj Law, LLC today at (717) 275-9770, or reach out online for a consultation.