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Spotlight Issue: Landlord / Tenant disputes

Saturday, April 29th, 2017

What are you rights as a tenant in Pennsylvania? Most of us have been tenants at one point in our lives and disputes with your landlord can be confusing. You may not have understood your lease when you signed it and now that a problem has come up, you’re wondering what you can do about it. Consulting an attorney who is experienced in dealing with these matters can be helpful and can ultimately save you money. In this blog we’ll discuss some of the common issues that arise between landlords and tenants in Berks County. Remember, you should always insist in a written lease.

Security Deposit

A landlord can ask for a security deposit equal to up to 2 months’ rent. The landlord must keep your security deposit in a separate account (escrow account). Disagreements often arise when a landlord wants to keep all or part of a security deposit. The terms of your security deposit return should be discussed in your lease. Once you have moved out and given your forwarding address to your landlord, he has 30 days to return your deposit. If he does not intend to return your entire deposit, then he has 30 days to send you an itemized list of damages with costs of repair. As a tenant, you can sue your landlord if he improperly refuses to return your security deposit. You can ask for double the amount of your deposit if the landlord does not send the itemized list or return your full deposit within 30 days. If you have questions about the return of your security deposit, contact our experienced Reading, PA landlord/tenant attorneys today.

Eviction

Eviction is the only way that a landlord can make you vacate a rented property. Landlords cannot simply lock you out of the property or turn off utilities. The eviction process starts with a written eviction notice called a “Notice to Quit.” This gives the tenant a set amount of time to leave the property. The landlord must give the tenant 10 days to leave (or pay) for nonpayment of rent and 15 days to leave for any other type of breach of lease. If the tenant refuses to leave then the landlord will file an eviction case in front of a Magisterial District Judge. The MDJ will schedule the case for an eviction hearing to determine who should have possession of the property – the tenant or the landlord. This decision is called a Notice of Judgment. The MDJ’s decision can be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas. If the MDJ grants a Notice of Judgment in favor of the landlord then once the appeal period has passed, the landlord will file for an Order of Possession. This orders the tenant to vacate the property within 10 days. If the tenant does not vacate in the appropriate time then a constable can forcibly remove the tenant. While you don’t have to have an attorney for the eviction hearing, your landlord may have an attorney and you will need to present your case to the MDJ. It is in your best interest to consult with an experienced landlord/tenant attorney prior to the eviction hearing.

Implied Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment

This is a tenant right that is not usually written in any lease, but rather is implied or understood to be a part of every lease in Pennsylvania and protects your ability to use the rental property as intended. This issue could come up if a landlord is entering your rental property frequently and without sufficient notice because such action would impact your right to privacy in your home. You should notify your landlord in writing of the problem. If your landlord fails to fix the problem, and you move out, then the covenant of quiet enjoyment will be your defense to your landlord’s lawsuit for your breach of the lease. If this is a situation that you are currently encountering in Reading, PA or Berks County, you should consult with our experienced landlord/tenant attorneys to ensure that you have protected yourself against a breach of lease lawsuit or judgment.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

Again, this is probably not a right that is contained in your lease, but your landlord must still abide by it. It means that you have the right to live in a property that is free from serious defects. Serious defects may include faulty wiring or a leaky roof. This does not cover cosmetic defects. If your rental property has a defect that makes it uninhabitable, you should notify your landlord in writing. If, after a reasonable time has passed, the problem has not been fixed, you can repair it yourself and deduct the repair costs from your rent. The repair costs must also be reasonable. You may also be able to withhold rent until the repairs are made. If you withhold rent, you need to place the unpaid rent in an escrow account and inform the landlord that you are doing so. Make sure you keep copies of all documentation so you can show your landlord or present it to the judge if your landlord sues you for failure to pay rent. If the defect is too costly for you to repair, you may be able to move out of the property and use the implied warranty of habitability as a defense to your landlord’s claim for breach of the lease. If this is a situation that you are currently encountering in Reading, PA or Berks County, you should consult with our experienced landlord/tenant attorneys to ensure that you have protected yourself against a breach of lease lawsuit or judgment.

Our experienced Berks County landlord/tenant attorneys are here to answer your questions. Contact us at 610-372-5128 or info@enmlaw.com.