Tenants have a right in Pennsylvania to a safe and habitable rental, regardless of what their lease may state. This right is called the implied warranty of habitability. Tenants must be able to prove that they notified their landlord about the problem, so putting repair requests in writing is strongly recommended. Landlords who violate the implied right to habitability may face rent abatement, city or town code violations, withholding of rent, tenants using rent monies to pay for repairs, and in the worst cases, tenants breaking their lease and moving out due to the poor conditions. If you are a tenant with questions or problems with the condition of your rental, it is important to contact an experienced attorney to advise you about your options.
Tenants are obligated to pay their rent on time and follow the terms of the lease, which in Pennsylvania can be oral or in writing. Tenants who do not pay their rent on time or whose landlords believe they broke a lease term may face a lawsuit by their landlord, seeking to evict them and/or obtain a judgment for money. Pennsylvania law also allows tenants to be evicted if their landlord chooses to not renew their lease. In order to evict a tenant, the landlord must take certain legal steps. To begin the eviction process, the landlord usually, but not always, provides written notice to the tenant to move by a specific date. If the tenant does not move, the landlord can file an eviction complaint in court. If the landlord wins in court, the tenant has 10 days to appeal the court’s decision, and remain in the residence. A tenant who does not appeal has a minimum of 21 days to move.
To file an appeal, a tenant may be required to put any money owed in an account with the court. The court has special payment option for low-income tenants for the initial payment. The tenant must keep paying rent into the court’s account every month, while the appeal is pending. Failure to keep paying the rent will cause the appeal to be dismissed. A landlord cannot change the locks, shut off the utilities, or evict a tenant in any way without getting a court order.
There are several potential defenses to eviction lawsuits. Some of the most common are landlord’s failure to comply with required local licensing and other administrative requirements, failure to comply with local laws, habitability issues, and providing evidence that that the alleged lease breach did not occur, or providing proof of the missing rental payment. It is important to contact the Law Project immediately if your landlord has sued you so that you case can be evaluated for potential defenses, and an experienced attorney can represent you at the court hearing.
Some landlords do not follow the law and attempt to illegally evict their tenant, by changing the locks, turning off utilities, removing doors or windows, trashing tenant’s personal property, or making threats of harm. Tenants illegally locked out should call 911 to report their landlord’s acts of illegal eviction. Once the police determine that the lockout is illegal, the officer may contact the landlord to tell him or her to allow the tenant to enter the premises immediately. If the police cannot reach the landlord, the tenant has the legal right to gain entry into their rental however they are able, including changing the locks. Landlords who engage in illegal eviction can be sued for monetary damages.