Pennsylvania Security Deposit Law

Pennsylvania Security Deposit Law

Last Updated: June 20, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

In Pennsylvania, the collection and return of security deposits are regulated under the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act § 250.511a to § 250.512. These laws provide a set of rules that Pennsylvania landlords and property managers have to follow to protect all parties.

Quick Facts Answer
Maximum Charge 2 Months’ Rent or 1 Month’s Rent (Renewal)
  • Unpaid Rent
  • Cost of Damages
  • Expenses for a Breach of Lease
Return Deadline 30 Days
Return Penalty Double the Withheld Amount
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Maximum Security Deposit Charge in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania landlords can charge a maximum of two months’ rent as a security deposit. For leases renewed after the first year, the landlord can only require one month’s rent as a security deposit. For renewals of a lease that has spanned more than five years, the landlord can no longer increase the amount of security deposit even if the rent increases. These limits will apply even if a tenant wishes to waive them. However, these limits, as well as the rules discussed below, only apply to leases of residential property.

Additional Pet Deposits. Under Pennsylvania’s law, the landlord may ask for an additional pet deposit. However, people with disabilities who use service animals are entitled to full and equal access to housing. Thus, the tenant may not be discriminated against and the landlord may not require the tenant to pay extra to have a service animal. If the service animal causes damage to the rental unit, the tenant is liable to pay for any damages.

The Federal Fair Housing Act requires housing facilities to allow tenants who use service dogs and emotional support animals to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their home.

Security Deposit Holdings in Pennsylvania

If the security deposit is more than $100, the landlord must do one of the two things below:

  1. The landlord may place the security deposit in an escrow account which may be either interest-bearing or noninterest bearing in a bank or institution regulated by the Federal Reserve Board, Federal Home Loan Bank Board, Comptroller of the Currency or the Pennsylvania Department of Banking.
    • Upon placing the security deposit in an escrow, the landlord must notify the tenant of the name and address of the bank or institution where the tenant’s security has been placed and indicate the exact amount placed therein. This notice must be in writing.
    • For security deposits placed in an interest-bearing account and the lease is renewed beyond the first two years (24 months), security deposits more than $100 must be placed in an escrow account that earns interest. The interest earned on such an account will belong to the tenant and paid to the tenant every year on the anniversary of the lease. However, the landlord may take 1% of the security deposit as an administration fee.
  2. Alternatively, the landlord may secure a bond from a surety authorized in Pennsylvania conditioned upon the landlord returning the security deposit to the tenant minus allowed deductions at the end of the lease.

Allowable Deductions on Security Deposits in Pennsylvania

The landlord can only use the security deposit when the lease or tenancy has ended or has been terminated. Also, the landlord can only use the security deposit for:

  1. Unpaid rent.
  2. The cost of damage to the unit.
  3. Breach of any other condition in the lease by the tenant.

“Normal Wear and Tear” vs. “Damage” in California

  • Normal Wear and Tear” refers to minor issues that occur naturally as a result of the tenant using the property as it was designed to be used. These minor issues can include gently worn carpets, loose door handles, fading wall paint and flooring, stained bath fixtures, lightly scratched glass, dirty grout and even mold.
  • Damage” refers to the destruction that is a result of abuse or negligence by a tenant during the tenancy period. Damage to the rental property negatively impacts its usefulness, value, or normal function. It can include pet damage (heavily stained and ripped carpets), broken tiles, holes in the wall, broken windows and missing fixtures.

Check out our article on “wear and tear” vs. “damage” to get a better idea of the difference and visit our state laws page to learn more about other landlord-tenant responsibilities.

Tenant’s Obligations

The landlord can only charge the cost of repairs if the damage was caused by the failure of the tenant to comply with specific obligations. To comply with the tenant’s obligations under the said rule, the tenant must:

  1. Not willfully or wantonly destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit, or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances.
  2. The tenant’s invited guests shall not destroy, deface, damage, impair, or remove any part of the structure or dwelling unit, or the facilities, equipment, or appurtenances.
  3. Not permit any person on the premises to willfully or wantonly disturb the peaceful enjoyment of the premises by other tenants and neighbors.

Can the deposit be used by the tenant as last month’s rent? Not usually, but it can be done if there is a written agreement between the parties to do so.

Returning Security Deposits in Pennsylvania

Time Frame: The landlord has 30 days from the end of the lease or the day the tenant vacates the premises, whichever is earlier, to return the security deposit together with any interest that has not been paid or credited to the tenant. If the landlord intends to make deductions, the landlord must also provide the tenant with a written list of the charges and return what is left of the security deposit within the same time frame. If the tenant fails to provide the landlord with a forwarding address, in writing, the landlord shall be relieved from all liability.

Penalty for Failure to Provide the Written List: If the landlord fails to provide the written list of claims or deductions on the security deposit within the 30 days of terminated tenancy, the landlord forfeits all rights to the security deposit or any part of it as well as the right to sue the tenant for damage to the unit.

Penalty for Failure to Return the Security Deposit on Time: If the landlord fails to return the security deposit or what is left of it, the landlord may be made to pay double the withheld from the tenant, which is the difference between the security deposit plus interest and the total amount of allowable deductions. Tenant’s may sue a maximum amount of $12,000 in Small Claims Court, also known as “Municipal Court” in Philadelphia or “Justice Court” throughout the rest of Pennsylvania.

Questions? To chat with a Pennsylvania landlord tenant attorney, Click here

Security Deposits and Tax Filing in Pennsylvania

How the security deposit will be treated tax-wise depends on whether or not the landlord gets to keep it (or part of it).

Taxable Income: Security deposits are not automatically considered income when the landlord receives them. The IRS advises to not include security deposits as income if the landlord may still be required to return the same. They only become taxable income when the landlord no longer has any obligation to refund them. For example, if the security deposit was given in 2020 but was only forfeited in 2021, then the landlord should only include it as income in 2021.

Reporting Security Deposit as Income: Whether or not security deposit should be reported as income and when to do so will depend on what it is being applied to or used as. Below are three simple rules the IRS has suggested:

  1. If the deposit is forfeited due to a breach of the lease or applied to unpaid rent, then the amount kept should be declared as income in the year it was forfeited or applied.
  2. If the security deposit is used to cover expenses that are chargeable to it, then the landlord should only include the part of the deposit used as income if the landlord includes the cost of repairs as expenses. If the landlord doesn’t include them as expenses as a matter of practice, then there’s no need to include the part of the deposit kept to cover them as income.
  3. There is an agreement between the parties to use the deposit or part of it as the final month’s rent, then the landlord should include it as income when the same is received.

Additional Rules & Regulations in Pennsylvania

Receipt Requirements: The landlord is not required to provide a receipt for the security deposit in Pennsylvania.

Failure of the Tenant to Provide a Forwarding Address: If the tenant fails to provide the landlord with a forwarding address, the landlord will be relieved from all liability concerning the security deposit and accounting therefor.

Security Deposit Interest in Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania laws do not always require payment of interest on security deposits. The landlord is only required to pay interest on security deposits when the same is placed in an interest-bearing escrow account. Placing the security deposit in an interest-bearing account is only required when the lease lasts or is renewed after the first two years and the security deposit is more than $100.

During the third year of a lease, the landlord requires the one month’s rent escrow upon termination of the lease, or on surrender and acceptance of the leasehold premises. The escrow funds together with interest shall be returned to the tenant. Whenever a tenant has been in possession of premises for a period of five years or longer, any increase in rent shall not require an increase in the security deposit. Note, that this only applies to residential rental units.

For additional questions about security deposits in Pennsylvania, please refer to the official state legislation, Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act § 250.511a to § 250.512, for more information.