TENANTS' RIGHTS LAWYERS
When you first sign a lease and move into a new building, it might seem like your landlord has all the power. Especially if you have a problem with the property and can’t get a reply from them, or if you are having a hard time paying rent. But in reality, you have rights protected by state and federal law. Keep reading to find out the rights and obligations of both you and your landlord, and what you can do.
The Rights and Obligations of the Landlord
The Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act provides protection for as well as the rights and obligations of both landlords and tenants. Knowing what these are will help you to respond to any potential issues in the best way, including knowing when to contact a tenant’s rights specialist.
Your landlord has the right to collect a security deposit, equal or less than the value of two months' rent, as protection against damage to the property. They may also periodically inspect the property for repairs, maintenance, and to view conditions; see your lease for the specific terms about this.
Your landlord is obligated to return your security deposit within 30 days of you notifying them via writing that you are vacating the residence (unless they require the deposit for repairs that were necessitated by your tenancy or for missed rent payments).
They must give you 30 days’ notice (or 15 days’, if the lease is for less than 12 months or there is no written lease) to leave the property. The only exception to this is if your lease waives your right to this. Otherwise, notices can be given where your lease has expired, you have breached or violated the lease or you have failed to pay rent.
If there is a serious problem with your residence, such that the conditions may affect your health or safety or in some other way cause the residence to be unfit to live in, and you notify your landlord of these conditions (preferably in writing), your landlord is required to take care of the problem. If they refuse, you can pay for the repairs and deduct that amount from your rent, and you may be able to withhold rent if circumstances warrant. Your tenancy is protected by an “implied warranty of inhabitability,” which guarantees your right to safe, livable housing conditions.
Landlords are not permitted to lock you out or shut off your utilities. They must go through a court process to evict you. They also cannot withhold your property from you after you move out, except in two conditions: 1) you have left the property in such a way as to require the landlord to essentially store your possessions, or 2) where the landlord has given notice of “distress” on the property due to unpaid rent. In either case, you can work with a tenant’s rights lawyer to try to reclaim your possessions.
Your Obligation as the Tenant
You have an obligation to keep up with your rent. You will also need to pay any fees, such as the security deposit and any other permitted fees. You should understand the terms of your lease and comply with those, as leases are enforceable contracts. (In the rare circumstance that a provision in the lease would be considered excessive or unfair, it may be unenforceable, but that would not affect the rest of the lease.)
You should communicate everything, from requests for repairs to plans to vacate the property, in writing, as this may help should court action occur.
The Landlord and Tenant Act applies to you whenever you pay money in regular installments to live in any residence. It might even apply if you don’t pay rent, if you have been a regular, permitted resident for an extended period of time.
HOW WE CAN HELP
If you need a tenant's rights lawyer, we can represent you in court, whether you have been sued for eviction, are facing monetary claims by the landlord or are dealing with disputes about housing conditions. If you have questions about any of these, or about your lease, contact our office in your county for advice or representation.
THE COUNTY COURT PROCESS
Eviction complaints are filed with the Magisterial District Judge in the county where the residence is located. A hearing will be scheduled within 7 to 15 days, and the District Judge can make the decision immediately or within 5 days of the hearing. If eviction is granted, you must leave within 10 days; however, if you do not, you cannot be forcibly removed. The landlord then must obtain an “Order for Possession,” after which you have an additional 10 days to move before you can be forcibly removed by law enforcement.
An appeal to your county Court of Common Pleas must be filed within 10 days of the court order if you intend to remain in the residence during the appeal, and you must pay the rent that is owed as determined by the District Judge or three months of rent, whichever is lesser. To continue to remain in the residence during the appeal, you must pay rent to the Prothonotary every 30 days of the court order. If you are only challenging the monetary judgment, you must appeal to the Court of Common Pleas within 30 days. Any such appeal must be filed at the Prothonotary.
For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.
For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.
For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.
For local rules, go to www.washingtoncourts.us.
The Landlord and Tenant Act is found at 68 P.S. Section 250.101-250.602.
For more online information, go to www.palawhelp.org.
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