If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on security deposits, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
When a house, apartment or mobile home is rented the landlord will usually require a tenant to pay a security deposit to cover physical damage to the premises or rent still owing when the tenant moves out. In Pennsylvania, the law places specific limits on how much can be charged as a security deposit and how the money is to be handled. There are also specific rules concerning the return of the money to the tenant when the premises are vacated.
During the first year of a lease, a landlord can charge no more than two (2) months rent as a security deposit. In the second year and in subsequent years, a landlord can charge no more than one (1)month's rent as a security deposit. After the tenant has lived in the premises for five years or more, the landlord cannot raise the amount of the original security deposit if the rent increases.
If the security deposit is held by the landlord for a period exceeding two (2) years and is an amount greater than $100.00, the deposit must be placed in a bank account. Any time that a security deposit is placed in a bank or banking institution, the landlord must notify the tenant in writing, giving the name and address of the banking institution and the amount of the deposit.
Within 30 days after the tenant moves out, the landlord must provide the tenant with a written list of any damages to the premises which the landlord claims were caused by the tenant. Along with this written list of damages, the landlord must provide the tenant with payment of the difference between the amount of the security deposit, including any interest earned, and the actual amount of the damages caused by the tenant.
If the landlord fails to provide the tenant with a written list of damages within 30 days, the landlord loses the right to keep any part of the security deposit and loses the right to sue the tenant for damage to the property, even if the damage has been caused by the tenant.
If the landlord fails to provide the tenant with the difference between the security deposit and the actual damages within thirty (30) days, the tenant may then sue the landlord for double the amount of the difference between the amount of the security deposit and the actual damages which the tenant caused to the premises. The landlord will have to prove the actual damages in order to avoid having to pay double the amount of the security deposit to the tenant. This lawsuit may be filed by the tenant in Magisterial District Court in the district in which the leased premises are located. The landlord is not required to return the security deposit if the tenant's rent is not paid up or if the tenant breached any other condition of the lease. Also, the landlord will not be liable for any money damages for failure to return the tenant's security deposit if the tenant does not provide the landlord with his new address or with a mailing address where he can be reached at the time the tenant moves out. The forwarding address must be provided to the landlord in writing. Although it is not required under law, it is a good idea to notify the landlord of this address by certified mail in order to prove that the landlord received the forwarding address.
The rights of the tenant with regard to the amount of the security deposit and the handling of the security deposit are always applicable and cannot be waived by the tenant even if a clause in the lease says so.
Information is current as of 3/2018.