In Pennsylvania, whenever a landlord agrees to lease a residential unit to a tenant, whether verbally or in writing, a lease is created. Under Pennsylvania law (Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act), a lease creates certain rights for the tenant even if those rights are not contained in the lease or any other agreement. For example, the tenant has the right to have visitors and guests over and to install what is necessary for cable T.V services.
Landlords also have certain rights that do not have to be included in the lease such as the right to seize the tenant’s property to compel the payment of rent and to evict the tenant for failing to pay rent.
Additionally, please check local county and municipality laws for additional rights for both landlords and tenants in Pennsylvania.
Warranty of Habitability in Pennsylvania
Landlord Responsibilities. Like most other states, Pennsylvania requires landlords operating within their state to maintain certain standards when it comes to the health and safety of their rental units – including when they are occupied. However, unlike in many other states, Pennsylvania’s warranty of habitability exists not through a specific set of laws, but primarily through legal precedent. As such, its actual application is open to some interpretation.
Even so, the state’s Supreme Court has handed down a variety of decisions that effectively encapsulate a Pennsylvania tenant’s right to live in “decent” dwelling. In practice, this means that a Pennsylvania tenant cannot be forced to accept a dwelling “as is.” Along the same lines, these rulings have also set forth the standard that landlords in Pennsylvania must provide the following essential amenities as well as repairs to those same amenities upon request:
- A reasonable supply of hot and cold water
- Proper sewer access
- Reliable locks on all doors and windows
- In-unit heating (during the winter)
- Timely pest abatement
- Waterproofed and structurally sound walls, floors, and roofs
- Safe electric wiring, outlets, and fixtures
- Functioning appliances, such as a stove or refrigerator (when those appliances are provided for in the applicable lease agreement)
When any of these essential amenities falls out of working order, a Pennsylvania landlord has a “reasonable” amount of time to repair it. This repair period can only be initiated if a Pennsylvania tenant provides them with a request for a repair, though. Also, the precise amount of time a Pennsylvania landlord has to perform that repair remains fully up to interpretation unless a time-based standard is outlined in the applicable lease agreement.
Tenant Responsibilities. Apart from paying rent on time, Pennsylvania tenants are responsible at all times for keeping their unit sanitary and livable on a day-to-day basis. This means that a Pennsylvania tenant must remove all trash from their premises in a timely manner while also performing minor repairs to key utilities, such as the plumbing or heating. Most major repairs remain the responsibility of the landlord, unless specified otherwise in the applicable lease agreement.
A Pennsylvania landlord is responsible for enforcing this cleanliness standard and most choose to do so in the same manner that they would enforce other lease terms. As such, if a Pennsylvania landlord documents one or more instances of the established cleanliness standard being broken, that landlord may issue a written 15-Day Notice to Quit (30-Day Notice to Quit for tenants of 1 year or more) that outlines the nature of the infraction. That Pennsylvania tenant must then abide by the notices terms or become subject to eviction.
Also, under Pennsylvania’s landlord-tenant code, tenants who are faced with a statutorily uninhabitable dwelling are given the power to take at least one form of alternative action against their landlord. For example, a Pennsylvania tenant in this situation is legally able to withhold rent payments until the necessary repairs are provided. Pennsylvania tenants may also be able to repair an issue on their own and deduct the associated costs from a rent payment, but the state’s laws do not specifically protect this form of alternative action.
Evictions in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania state law allows for these following types of with-cause evictions, even though most landlords in the state will only result to these remedies as a last resort:
- Nonpayment of rent – A Pennsylvania is required to pay rent at the time specified in their lease agreement, due to the state’s lack of statutory standard for rent payment due dates. If a Pennsylvania tenant fails to pay rent at that established time, their landlord is entitled to issue a 10-Day Notice to Quit that compels them to pay the full amount or move out. If the tenant does not pay up or move out within that 10 day notice period, they may be subject to a formal eviction if their landlord files a Summons and Complaint with a local District Judge’s office.
- Violation of lease terms – If a Pennsylvania landlord discovers that their tenant has broken one or more of their lease’s terms, then they may immediately issue a 15-Day Notice to Quit (30-Day Notice to Quit for tenants of 1 year or more) that outlines the nature of their infraction. Though not required by law, it is customary for this notice to outline terms for remedying the infraction. If those terms are not met by the end of the notice period, then the tenant may be legally compelled to move out when an eviction order is filed against them.
- Illegal Acts – Pennsylvania state law indicates that there are several specific legal infractions that may justify an immediate eviction. These include the following:
- Sale, production, or distribution of illegal drugs (including for the 1st offense)
- Any violation detailed under the “Controlled Substance, Drug, Device, and Cosmetic Act” (starting with the second offense)
Evictions without a lease. Pennsylvania is one of the only US states that does not provide statutory guidelines regarding how tenants who rent without a lease in the state must be treated. As such, it is assumed that these “at-will” tenants are not protected from any type of eviction and can be forced to move out at any time, for any reason, and without any advance notification.
Illegal Evictions. In Pennsylvania, certain kinds of retaliatory evictions are impermissible. For example, a Pennsylvania tenant cannot be evicted because they chose to join a tenant union or similar advocacy organization. Also, a Pennsylvania landlord cannot explicitly or implicitly use discriminatory reasoning to justify an eviction. To that end, any tenant who falls within the state or federal government’s several protected classes cannot be evicted based upon their class trait alone.
Security Deposits in Pennsylvania
To collect, maintain, and redistribute security deposits in Pennsylvania, landlords are required to abide by these following regulations and standards:
- Standard Limit / Maximum Amount – Pennsylvania’s standard limits for security deposits differ depending on how long the tenant has been engaged in a leasing relationship with their landlord. New tenants, for example, can be charged as much as the value of 2 months’ rent as an introductory security deposit. However, as soon as that lease lasts for more than 1 year, that same landlord can only charge the equivalent of 1 months’ as deposit. After 5 years of tenancy, a Pennsylvania can no longer charge more for a security deposit, even if the price of rent increases after that point.
- Interest and Maintenance – Pennsylvania landlords must maintain security deposits of $100 or more in either an escrow account at a regulated banking institution or in surety bond authorized by the state. This escrow account need not initially earn interest at all. However, after the applicable lease agreement lasts for 2 years or longer, all deposits in that account must earn interest. All interest that accrues in that manner is owed to the tenant, except for a 1% cut which a Pennsylvania landlord may keep as an administration fee.
- Time Limit for Return – A Pennsylvania landlord has 30 days to return all remaining security deposit funds (and interest, if applicable) to their tenant after their lease ends or they move out. These funds must be accompanied by a written list of deductions made from the original deposit.
- Penalty if Not Returned on Time – If a Pennsylvania landlord fails to return all or part of a tenant’s security deposit on time, they may be liable to pay up to twice the deposit’s value as a penalty. Also, if a Pennsylvania landlord fails to include an itemized deduction list with their deposit return, then they forfeit any claim to the tenant’s security deposit going forward.
- Allowable Deductions – Landlords in Pennsylvania are generally able to charge a security deposit deduction for any reason outlined in their applicable lease agreement (including a standard lease breach). However, most deductions made by Pennsylvania landlords relate to late rent payments or the cost of performing repairs on damage that exceeds regular wear and tear.
Lease Termination in Pennsylvania
Notice Requirements. Pennsylvania’s current landlord tenant laws do not specify if tenants who are engaged in a fixed-term lease are required to provide notice before moving out on their established end date. However, these same laws do clearly require periodic tenants to provide the following amounts of written notice in order for their request to terminate their lease to be granted:
- Month-to-Month lease – 15 days of advance notice
- Lease of more than 1 year – 30 days of advance notice
Legally Breaking a Lease Early. When available to a Pennsylvania tenant, an early termination clause can be the easiest and most efficient to break off a lease before its established end date. However, Pennsylvania’s landlord-tenant laws do not require a landlord to include this kind of provision in their leases. Even so, all Pennsylvania tenants can utilize the following justifications to initiate a necessary early lease termination:
- Active Military Duty – Federal law allows service members who are relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station to terminate their lease as early as 30 days from the next rent period.
- Unit is Uninhabitable – Though Pennsylvania’s health and safety standards for rental units is partially open to interpretation, landlords operating in the state are still required to meet the implied warranty of habitability’s general provisions at all times. This includes ensuring that all major repairs are performed in a timely manner such that they do not impact a tenant’s ability to fully utilize their dwelling safely. If a Pennsylvania landlord fails to meet this obligation, then their tenant may request an immediate lease termination the grounds that continued habitation would be unsafe.
- Landlord Harassment – Pennsylvania’s landlord-tenant code does not establish a standard number of notice hours a landlord must provide before being provided legal admittance to a tenant’s unit. Even so, landlords in Pennsylvania are legally bound to follow any entry policies written into their applicable lease agreements. Failure to do so regularly may cause a tenant’s right to privacy to be infringed upon, which can then be used as grounds for an unconditional lease termination.
Depending on the specific language of the applicable lease agreement, a Pennsylvania tenant may be obliged to continue paying rent on their vacated unit even after their lease is terminated. While this kind of policy is enforceable, the same tenant’s obligation to pay can be passed on if a new tenant is found and is able to take over the lease. A Pennsylvania tenant will have to perform this search alone, though, because Pennsylvania landlords are not legally obliged to assist in the re-renting process.
Rent Increases & Related Fees in Pennsylvania
Rent control & increases. Currently, Pennsylvania state law does not establish any allowances or preemptions for localized rent control ordinances. As such, landlords operating in Pennsylvania are generally free to raise rent as much or as often as they feel is appropriate. Pennsylvania landlords are not even required to provide notice of any kind in advance of a rent increase unless an applicable lease agreement requires otherwise.
Rent related fees. Pennsylvania’s current landlord-tenant code does not include any statutory guidance regarding the administration of late fees. As such, landlords in this state may charge as much as they want for late fees as often as they see fit, so long as the process and cost of said late fees are provided for in an applicable lease agreement.
Regardless of a lease’s terms, a Pennsylvania landlord is only allowed to charge $50 as a base rate for a returned check fee. However, if that landlord is charged more than $50 to process a tenant’s bounced check, they may charge the full value of that processing fee as a returned check fee to their tenant.
Housing Discrimination in Pennsylvania
Federal Protections. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from being discriminated against due to race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability. However, the law does not apply to all housing, such as owner-occupied homes with 4 or fewer units or housing operated by religious organizations.
State Protections. The Pennsylvania Human Relations Act prohibits discriminatory business practices in several domains, including the statewide rental housing industry. This law expands on the protections set forth in the federal Fair Housing Act by protecting several extra classes of tenants. Specifically, Pennsylvania tenants cannot be discriminated against based upon their age (over 40) or their pregnancy status.
Discriminatory Acts & Penalties. The Pennsylvania Human Rights Commission handles the administration of the state’s several civil rights laws, including those that cover the state’s rental housing industry. To that end, the Commission dictates that the following business practices and behaviors may be judged as discriminatory if they are implicitly or explicitly targeted at a protected class of tenants:
- Falsely denying or misrepresenting the availability of housing for inspection, sale, or rental
- Offering different terms, conditions, or privileges between tenants
- Charging a fee for a support animal
- Failing to make a reasonable accommodation
- Denying certain financing services
To begin the process of reporting housing discrimination in Pennsylvania, tenants are required to fill out and submit the questionnaire listed on the Commission’s website. From there, it is assumed that the submitted information is used to facilitate an investigation and return a judgement relating to the accused landlord’s actions. However, the Commission does not provide almost any useful public information regarding this investigation process or any potential penalties that may result from it.
Additional Landlord Tenant Regulations in Pennsylvania
Here are a few more key Pennsylvania landlord-tenant laws that you should read up on before entering into a fresh lease agreement:
Landlord Entry. Pennsylvania does not maintain any statutes governing the entry rights of landlords operating in the state. As such, Pennsylvania landlords are technically free to enter a tenant’s unit whenever they see fit and for any reason. In most cases, landlords include a standardized entry policy in their leases that outline how much notice they must provide and the circumstances under which they may enter.
Such a policy may or may not address emergency entry though, which is generally understood to be permissible without any amount of notice. Even if emergency entry is standardized under a lease agreement, a Pennsylvania landlord cannot abuse this open access to a tenant’s unit in order to harass them.
Small Claims Court. Pennsylvania’s small claims court system can be utilized at any time when tenants and their landlords feel that they are unable to resolve a serious dispute on their own. To that end, these small claims courts accept cases valued at up to $12,000, including cases relating to or centered on eviction.
However, small claims courts in Philadelphia do not abide by this case value limitation. Instead allow landlords and tenants within city limits to file small claims cases of any value.
Mandatory Disclosures. When it comes to mandatory disclosures, Pennsylvania landlords are only required to include two sets of information in all of their new lease agreements. First, landlords in Pennsylvania must provide information about the hazards of lead-based paint to tenants living in buildings built before 1978. However, all tenants (regardless of where they live) must receive documentation that outlines where and in what manner their security deposits are being maintained.
Changing the Locks. Pennsylvania’s current laws do not provide much guidance regarding the changing of locks on an occupied unit. Generally, Pennsylvania tenants are not encouraged to change their own locks without permission, but that are not explicitly prohibited from doing so. Meanwhile, Pennsylvania landlords are able to unilaterally change their tenant’s locks, but only under the force of a court order.
Local Laws in Pennsylvania
Landlord tenant rights are not exclusively governed by state law. Cities and counties may enact their own rules and regulations for renters.
Philadelphia Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Philadelphia maintains a “good cause” eviction ordinance that applies to all rental units within city limits. This law went into effect in 2019 and requires landlords to always provide 30 days of advance notice if they intend to evict their tenant for one the several specific “good causes” outlined in the law. More information about this law’s administration can be found here, while info about other Philadelphia-specific ordinances can be found on the city’s website.
Pittsburgh Landlord Tenant Rights
The city of Pittsburgh and its surrounding county, Allegheny County, maintain several localized ordinances that exceed the standards set by the state at large. One prime example is the county’s additional fair housing protections based upon a tenant’s sexual orientation or gender identity. More information on this and other important local housing ordinances can be found on the city’s website.