Tenants’ Rights

Am I a tenant and protected by Landlord and Tenant laws?

Regardless of whether you have a lease, if you are paying money each month, or in regular installments, to live at any residence, you are likely a tenant with rights and responsibilities under the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act.  Additionally, if you have been a regular, permitted occupant of a residence for an extended period of time, you may also be covered by the Act even if you pay no rent.

Is my lease valid?

Leases are contracts that are generally valid and enforceable if signed or otherwise agreed to by the landlord and the tenant.  You will generally be presumed to have read and understand anything that you have signed, including a lease agreement.  A lease provision that is “unconscionable,” or unreasonable or excessive, may be challenged as unenforceable, although even if the challenge to that provision succeeds, the rest of the lease may be enforceable.

Do I have to pay a security deposit? How do I get a security deposit back?

At the beginning of your tenancy, a landlord may collect a reasonable security deposit, not to exceed the amount of two months’ rent. When you vacate the residence, that security deposit must be returned, unless needed for repairs due to your tenancy.  Immediately before or after you move out, you should request, in writing, the return of the security deposit, noting your new address where payment can be sent.  The landlord must respond within 30 days with your deposit or the repairs needed or unpaid rent owed, if the security deposit is not being returned.  If the landlord refuses to return your security deposit or ignores your request, you may seek its return in court, either during your defense of an eviction complaint or through your own complaint. If successful, the landlord may be liable to you for up to twice the amount of the security deposit.

What can I do if my residence is in poor condition?

You should promptly contact your landlord about any serious problems with your residence’s condition, preferably in writing.  Every residential tenancy in Pennsylvania has an “implied warranty of inhabitability,” a guarantee that your residence is meeting the basic tenant needs of safe, livable conditions.  If you have major problems with conditions, you can withhold rent or repair the problem and deduct that amount from rent, if the landlord is violating the implied warranty of inhabitability.  You generally have a responsibility to pay rent, however, so such actions should only be taken as a last resort, 1) where there is a significant problem with the conditions that may affect your health or safety or 2) that otherwise cause the residence to be unfit to live in, and 3) where you have notified the landlord of the problem, without success.

Can my landlord inspect my rental property?

You should review your lease to see what terms it includes about your landlord’s right to periodically inspect your residence for purposes of ensuring proper maintenance and conditions.  Generally, the landlord must provide to you with reasonable notice of such inspections and limit those inspections to repair, maintenance and conditions.  Landlords are not permitted to inspect your residence as often as they want for no reason or for improper reasons, as it is your residence and you have the right to possession during your tenancy.

Must my landlord give me notice to leave the residence?

Yes, unless you have signed a lease waiving your right to such notice.  If your lease does not say that you have waived your notice to leave (or “quit”) the residence or set a specific amount of notice you must be given, you must be given 30 days’ notice for leases for more than one year and 15 days’ notice for leases of one year or less or where there is no written lease.  Notices to quit can be given where:

  1. Your lease has expired, or you do not have a lease and one full month’s notice is given.
  2. You have breached/violated the lease.
  3. You have failed to pay rent.

Can my landlord lock me out or shut off my utilities?

No.  In order to have you removed from the residence, the landlord must first go through the court process as described below.  Landlords are not entitled to “self-help” evictions and cannot have you forcibly removed by law enforcement without a court order for possession of the residence.  Similarly, landlords are not permitted to shut off your utilities for failure to pay rent or utilities.  Utility companies, however, may be permitted to do so for failure to pay, where proper notice has been given.

Can my landlord refuse to return my personal property after I leave?

Generally, the landlord may not simply withhold your property from you after you have moved out, and you may generally take your property with you when moving out.  Landlords may be able to keep your property from you in two instances: 1) where you have left the property in the residence after your period of tenancy has expired, such that the landlord must, in effect, store the property; or 2) where the landlord has given notice of “distress” or levy on the property due to unpaid rent.  In either case, you have the right to attempt to reclaim your property through a court order and should immediately contact us for advice or assistance.

What are my rights to protect against discrimination?

If you think that you may be a victim of housing discrimination, you can contact our Fair Housing Law Center at 1-877-725-4472, or visit www.fhlaw.org.  Classes protected from rental discrimination include:

  • Race and color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Gender
  • Familial status
  • Disability

Can my landlord refuse to rent to me or increase my rent because of pets?

Generally, yes; however, a landlord cannot deny you a rental property or increase your rent due to your pet if it is an “assistance animal” authorized by a medical provider to service a physical or mental disability.  If you think that your landlord is improperly denying your application or increasing your rent due to your service animal, you can contact our Fair Housing Law Center at 1-877-725-4472, or visit www.fhlaw.org.

How can legal aid help?

If you have been sued for eviction, our local county office will represent you in court at the Magisterial District Judge, the Court of Common Pleas, or both.  We may also represent you in court on other matters, including monetary claims by the landlord or disputes about housing conditions.  If you have questions about your lease, housing conditions or a potential eviction, contact our office in your county for telephone advice.

What is my 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 3 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.

Fayette County: For local rules, go to www.co.fayette.pa.us.

Greene County: For local rules, go to www.co.greene.pa.us.

Somerset County: For local rules, go to www.co.somerset.pa.us.

Washington County: 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.