If you need to consult with an attorney on landlord rights, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
Recent court decisions have narrowed the rights of landlords to take certain actions against their tenants. No longer may a landlord seize and sell a tenant's property for unpaid rent. Similarly, self-help eviction measures, such as shutting off utilities or locking the tenant out, have been ruled improper in residential leases. Note, however, that a residential tenant’s wages can be attached for unsatisfied judgments. The remaining rights of landlords are governed by the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951.
Landlords retain two important rights which may be exercised at the outset of the lease. First, landlords may require tenants to deposit an amount not to exceed two (2) months’ rent as security for damage to the property or default in rent. During the second and subsequent years of the lease, the landlord may only hold one (1) month’s rent as a security deposit. These limitations apply only to residential leases. Secondly, a tenant may waive his or her right to receive a written notice to quit, otherwise known as an eviction notice, which the Act requires as a prerequisite to commencing an eviction action. This waiver may be included in the written lease agreement at the time it is signed. Then, if the tenant ever defaults, the eviction action can be commenced immediately.
With a few exceptions, the residential landlord and tenant may include any mutually agreeable provisions in the lease agreement. The landlord may exercise this right to include reasonable late charges, rights to inspect the premises, limitations on the use of the premises, the prohibition on the right to sub-lease or assign and perhaps a right to terminate the lease after minimal notice or in case of a sale of the building.
Immediately upon any default by the tenant, the landlord must proceed to give the appropriate written notice (if it has not been waived) so that an eviction action can be commenced. The appropriate notice for terminating the lease at the end of the term or for a lease violation depends on the length of the lease. If the lease is for a period of one year or less, or for an indeterminate time, fifteen (15) days’ notice must be given. If the lease is for a period of more than a year, thirty (30) days’ notice must be provided to the tenant. A month to month lease can be terminated by the landlord by giving the tenant a 30-day notice. A Notice to Quit given due to the failure of the tenant to pay rent must give the tenant ten (10) days to vacate or to pay the rent that is due. Remember, the notice must be served personally (by handing it to the tenant) or posted on the premises (all four (4) corners of the notice taped to the front door). Certified mail is not sufficient. Upon the expiration of the notice period, an eviction action should be started with a Magisterial District Judge. Delay in exercising these rights will only prolong the time period before the tenant can be evicted. Most importantly, the Tenant’s right to this eviction procedure cannot be waived in the lease. If the lease contains a waiver of the eviction process, the Magisterial District Judge will not enforce the waiver and will make the landlord start the eviction process from the beginning.
Information is current as of 2/2018.