FAQs About Landlord-Tenant Law
Q: What documents do I need to file an eviction?
A: At a minimum, to file an eviction in Philadelphia, PA you will need a Housing Inspection License, Certificate of Rental Suitability, Partner for Good Housing Handbook, Notice to Vacate, and a written or verbal lease. In some situations you may not need all these documents. If the tenant has children aged six or younger you may also need a Lead Safe Certificate.
Q: What basis do I need to evict a tenant in Philadelphia?
A: In Philadelphia a tenant can be evicted for three specific bases: nonpayment of rent, termination of the lease, or breach of the lease. Breach of the lease may include, but is not limited to, threatening behavior, unsanitary conditions, illegal activity or any other breach of the lease term. In Pennsylvania, if a tenant is evicted for nonpayment of rent only then they are permitted to “pay and stay.” This means if they can satisfy the amount owed before the sheriff lockout they can stay at the property.
Q: Can a landlord go to jail if they evict me without the courts?
A: Technically, yes. A self-help eviction is a violation of 9-1600 of the Philadelphia Code. Violation of the Code is a summary offense. Therefore, a landlord could potentially face imprisonment for engaging in self-help eviction. It is not likely It is more likely the landlord would be assessed a fine or money judgment. Recently, the Philadelphia Police has started enforcing the Philadelphia Anti-Lockout Ordinance. This means that property owners breaking into their own property to take possession from an occupant therein may be subjected to criminal liability. Speak with a Philadelphia landlord tenant lawyer about obtaining a court order through eviction or ejectment to legally reclaim your property.
Q: What can happen if I do not pay my rent?
A: The landlord can file an eviction. Even if you subsequently pay your rent this will have a detrimental impact on your credit. It may also impact your ability to rent property in the future. Once an eviction is filed, there is no way to “take it back.” The history of the eviction may haunt you for years. While you may be able to vacate either judgment of possession or money judgment against you, it is important to note there is no expungement process for civil claims. Increasingly, landlords renting low-income properties are screening tenants for prior evictions as part of the application process.
Q: What is the maximum security deposit a landlord can demand?
A: A landlord cannot insist on more than two months security deposit. With that said, a landlord can reserve the right not to rent to you if you have credit issues. A landlord cannot refuse to rent based on race, sex, age, or any other legally protected classes. Many landlord and tenants negotiate around this law by contract. For example, a tenant may offer to pay an entire year up front. This is not illegal. It would be illegal for the landlord to hold this payment as “security” and not apply it to the rent.
Q: Can I evict a tenant without a lease?
A: If the rest of your documentation is in order (i.e., housing licenses, certificate of rental suitability, etc.) you may be able to evict without a lease. If an oral lease existed you can testify in-person as to the lease. Further, if the lease is lost you can still proceed with eviction. The problem is that you will not have a written document to substantiate your claims. Therefore, it is unlikely you will make any monetary recovery. Look for circumstantial evidence of a leasehold such as receipts of payment, renters insurance, deposited checks, etc.. Right now and eviction is a faster and more efficient process than an ejectment. Therefore, it makes sense to evict the occupant rather than eject if the option presents itself.
Q: Can a landlord file an eviction against a squatter?
A: Yes, but it’s not a good idea. If the landlord tries to evict a squatter (no lease) by way of eviction, the case may be dismissed. Evictions are for cases where there is a landlord-tenant relationship. If no landlord-tenant relationship (i.e., lease) exists, then the proper legal action would be an ejectment. Sometimes a landlord is successful in evicting the squatter where they have convinced the squatter to sign a lease. For example, an investor purchases a property at sheriff sale. The prior owner of the property occupies the home. The investor convinces the prior owner to stay on as a tenant. The prior owner signs a month-to-month lease. The investor may have a legal claim for eviction after the lease is executed. This may be a faster and more efficient means of removing the individual from the property.
Q: Who is responsible for structural damage to the property?
A: Generally, a landlord is responsible for structural repairs like pipe breakages, heating issues, and/or leaking ceilings. This may not be the case if the tenant causes the actual damage. Speak with a landlord-tenant attorney about who should bear the cost of damages. Often times, tenants who are sued in landlord and tenant court are heavily indebted without any significant assets. Therefore, even if a money judgment is obtained against the Tenant it may be difficult to collect on the judgment. Often times, judgments and collections is expensive and time consuming. This makes it impractical to chase tenants for back rent, damages, etc. where Tenant is low-income.
Q: Can I sue for double my deposit if the landlord doesn’t give it back?
A: In Pennsylvania, a landlord has an obligation to return your deposit within thirty days or provide you with an itemized list of damages. For this legal obligation to take effect, the Tenant must provide the Landlord with a forwarding address. If a forwarding address is not provided, then the landlord is not obligated to return your deposit. If a forwarding address is provided, the landlord must either return your deposit or provide the specific basis for withholding the deposit to you in writing. If the landlord does not take this action, you may sue for double damages pursuant to 68 P.S. § 250.512. Judges are often reluctant to award double damages unless there is clear evidence of intent to abscond with tenants deposit.
Q: Can a landlord come into my apartment whenever they want?
A: In most situations, a landlord must give 24 hours notice to enter your apartment. The lease may speak to landlord access. The landlord does not have a right to enter at-will without consulting the tenant, or for any reason. Speak with a landlord-tenant lawyer or consult your lease.