Residential Tenant Rights

Before you agree to rent, make sure you examine the house or apartment completely. Do not depend on the landlord to tell you about any defects in the property. If there is a written lease, read the lease carefully before you sign. Many leases are very harsh to tenants, for example, requiring the tenant to make all repairs. If a lease provision is unacceptable, ask the landlord to change it.

An oral lease for less than three years is legal and binding. Most oral leases are regarded as month to month leases. Be sure that you have some type of receipt for all cash you give the landlord. Keep all your receipts.

Your landlord can raise your rent at the end of the term of your lease. The landlord should give you at least thirty days advance notice.

Can your landlord evict you? The landlord can evict you if the term of the lease has expired or if you have broken one or more of the major provisions of the lease, such as not paying rent.

The landlord cannot force you to leave immediately. The landlord must first give you written notice that you are being evicted. The notice must state why you are being asked to leave and when you must move. The landlord must give this letter to you by hand delivery or by posting it on the premises where you live.

If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, the notice must give you ten (10) days to move or to pay the amount of rent you owe. The amount of notice the tenant must be given 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 is a month to month lease, fifteen (15) days notice must be given. If the lease is for a periods of more than one year, thirty (30) days notice must be provided to the tenant. A written lease may shorten the notice or waive the notice entirely.

If you have not moved out by the deadline, the landlord must go to the Magisterial District Court and file a landlord/tenant complaint. The complaint will state when the Magisterial District Judge will conduct a hearing regarding your eviction. It will be sent to you by first class mail or delivered to you by a Pennsylvania constable. Do not ignore this complaint. If you do nothing, the Magisterial District Judge will enter a judgment in the landlord's favor. Anytime before the hearing, you may file a cross-complaint to the landlord's complaint or may assert any other claim against the landlord.

You have a right to appear at the hearing and question the landlord and his witnesses. You may present your own witnesses and evidence. If you lose, you still have the right to remain in the apartment until a constable or sheriff forcible entry is scheduled. Also, if you lose and a judgment for possession is entered against you, you have ten (10) days to appeal to the Court of Common Pleas. If you file an appeal, your appeal may permit you to remain in the apartment during the appeal provided that you make certain payments into court. If the eviction action was brought only for non-payment of rent, you can stop it by paying the entire amount the Magisterial District Judge ordered, including court costs within the 10 day appeal period.

You have the right to a decent dwelling. Pennsylvania law requires what is called an "implied warranty of habitability". This means that your landlord must keep your apartment or house in a safe, sanitary condition. For example, a broken furnace, hazardous electrical wiring or a seriously leaking roof has to be corrected by the landlord if you did not cause the problem. Notify your landlord in writing, preferably by certified mail, of the problem that is threatening your health or safety. Be sure to keep a copy of the letter. Give your landlord a reasonable amount of time to make repairs.

If your landlord still refuses to make repairs, you have several options. You could move without any further payment of rent or you could repair the problem yourself and deduct the cost from your rent or you could reduce the amount of rent you pay. Contact a lawyer for a more detailed explanation of these alternatives.

Also, if you live in the City of Erie, contact the Code Enforcement/Property Maintenance Office at 870-1478 at City Hall or visit http://www.erie.pa.us/Departments/CodeEnforcement/PropertyMaintenance.aspx for additional information and options.

Within thirty (30) days of the termination of a lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the leased premises, whichever occurs first, the landlord must provide you with a written list of any damages to the leased premises for which the landlord claims that you are responsible. Delivery of this list will be accompanied with the remaining balance of the security deposit for the payment of damages to the leasehold premises and the actual amount of damages to the leased premises caused by you. If you do not receive this list within thirty (30) days as provided above, the landlord may have forfeited its rights to withhold any portion of the deposit or forfeited its right to bring suit against you for damages to the leased premises. If you do not receive the remaining balance of your security deposit within thirty (30) days as provided above, you may be entitled to recovery of up to two times the amount of your security deposit.   9/11

If you need an attorney and don't have one, the Lawyer Referral and Information Service can help.

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