When Things go Wrong...
This section brings attention to a few issues that tenants may experiences throughout their lease term.
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When Things go Wrong...
Security Deposit-Getting It Back
A security deposit is a prepayment made in conjunction with submitting a lease agreement. Usually, it is equivalent to the first month’s rent. At the end of the lease term, landlords have up to 30 days to return it to the tenant. If there are no charges (i.e. damages), the landlord must return the full amount of the security deposit to the tenant. If money is being withheld, the tenant must receive written documentation explaining these charges. If a tenant owes money to the landlord, this may be deducted from the deposit, and they may bill the tenant for any outstanding charges. If a tenant disagrees with specific charges, they should discuss it with the landlord. Document everything in writing, as legal action may be taken.
In order to get the security deposit back, tenants should:
- Return their key(s) by the lease end date.
- Provide a forwarding address, in writing, to the landlord.
- Remove all belongings from the apartment/house.
- Clean the apartment/house and dispose trash. Follow any cleaning requirements outlined in the lease agreement.
- Inspect the apartment/house with the landlord, if possible.
The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act specifies how security deposits are to be received, maintained, applied, returned, or kept by the landlord.
Threats of Eviction
A landlord may not evict a tenant without valid reason (i.e. nonpayment of rent). If a tenant refuses to leave, the landlord must take legal action. If the tenant loses and still refuse to leave the property, the police are permitted to physically remove the tenant from the premises. A landlord cannot turn off any utilities or deny access to the tenant(s).
Eviction is the last resort for a landlord to regain control of his/her property from a tenant who no longer has the right to continue possession. This issue can get quite complicated, so it is important that tenants understand the general process of eviction.
First, read the lease to see if you are entitled to possession. Every lease should have a section regarding the termination of the lease and remedies for breaking it. A tenant has right to retain possession if the lease is valid, signed, and is before the end term date. A tenant also has the right to possession if they have paid their rent, in full and on-time. If a tenant has not broken any terms of the contract, they have the right to retain possession. The landlord does not have the right to kick out a tenant by shutting off utilities or denying them access by changing the locks. They also do not have the right to harass, threaten, or intimidate their tenants or guests.
If a landlord issues a tenant with a written notice of eviction, and the tenant accepts the notice and moves out, this means that the tenant has been evicted. If the tenant simply moves out, legal action may need to be taken in order to regain the security deposit, or a rent payment that has already been paid.
A tenant is not required to move out if they receive a written notice of eviction, unless after they have been ordered by a court of law. If the local magistrate evicts a tenant, they must move out by the date specified in the eviction notice. Otherwise, if a landlord wants their tenant to leave, they must convince them to leave voluntarily, without threat, harassment, or intimidation.
Court can be a troublesome process that may be inconvenient for everyone. The landlord must go to the local magistrate and file a request for a hearing, and ask the judge to order the tenant’s eviction. The local magistrate will prepare a notice for the hearing. If the tenant chooses to ignore the hearing date, the court will most likely rule in favor of the landlord, and the tenant will be evicted. The tenant may also be charged for the cost and legal expenses, and surrender any security deposit and rent payments that have already been made.
If a tenant would like to fight the eviction notice, they should find out what has caused their landlords to reach this decision. It is important that the tenants try and speak with the landlord, ask forgiveness, and agree to resume a positive rapport with them by re-abiding to the rules and regulations outlined in the lease agreement (i.e. paying rent on-time, getting rid of a pet, etc.). However, if there have been constant problems, landlords may not be as forgiving.
The landlord must give the tenant a notice to quite before filing with the court. A request for a hearing can be filed ten to 30 days after the notice to quit. If the tenant has waived their right to notice, a notice to quit may be the first document they receive in this process. Tenants must receive a notice about the hearing. Tenants are not required to have an attorney present; however, it may be in their best interest to speak with one. It is important that the tenant brings necessary documentation to court (i.e. a copy of the lease, the court notice, any correspondence made between the tenant and landlord that are relevant). Tenants should frame a reasonable argument, be articulate, and conduct themselves in a professional manner.
The judge will be able to ignore or follow the landlord’s request for eviction; and assign court costs and expenses to be paid by one or both parties. A judge can also order the tenant to pay rent, penalties, or a combination. It is important that tenants understand the worst possible scenario that may arise in the court’s decision. A counter-claim made by the tenant against the landlord may be adjudicated simultaneously with the eviction hearing. This claim may include court costs, legal expenses, recovery of the security deposit, and rent payments, etc. Tenants may also be able to settle an outstanding obligation (i.e. unpaid rent or damages) prior to eviction.
Essentially, in the event of an eviction, the landlord has rights and responsibilities to follow when undertaking a tenant through the eviction process. The tenant equally has rights and responsibilities to protect themselves from unreasonable or discriminatory conduct from the landlord. In a hearing, the judge’s decision is final.
For more information regarding the eviction process, please review the Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Law.
Violating The Terms of a Lease
Here are a few ways in which a tenant may be breaking a lease:
- Failure to pay rent, late fees, or other charges in a timely manner.
- To do something that is prohibited according to the rules and regulations of the contract.
- Not doing something that is required by the lease agreement.
- Failure to move out of the apartment/house prior to the lease end date.
The landlord is entitled to take action against the tenant if he/she violates the lease agreement. Notice may be oral or in written form, and they may also post an eviction notice. Landlords may also repossess the property by filing legal action against the tenant. Monetary penalties may be assessed against the tenant by the landlord as well.
Landlords normally allow tenants to correct the lease violation on a first-offense. However, if additional problems arise, they usually take legal action. Landlords will also take legal action on the first offence depending on the severity of the offence (i.e. destruction of property, criminal activity, etc.).
Landlords may also violate the terms of the lease if he/she:
- Does not follow through with the terms of the lease agreement.
- Does something prohibited by the lease.
- Fails to maintain a safe, sanitary, and habitable living environment for the tenant(s).
- Does not promptly return the security deposit.
- Fails to follow the legal standards and requirements set by the city, county, and state.
- Does not guarantee “Quiet Enjoyment”.
Landlords may also break a lease agreement if they do not have title or control over their property (i.e. if the landlord loses title by sale or foreclosure). If a tenant believes that the landlord has violated the terms of lease, the tenant may informally notify the landlord of the issue and seek an agreement. If the landlord fails reach an agreement, the tenant may reiterate the issue in writing. If the landlord still disagrees with the problem, the tenant should consider taking legal action against the landlord or contacting a governmental agency. Tenants should possibly seek legal advice and research what evidence is needed to document. Lastly, the tenant should be aware of the potential consequences these decisions may have.
Tenants and landlords should avoid violating a lease agreement in order to avoid complications and difficult situations. Lease violations should be remedied informally, if possible; formally or legally, if necessary.
For additional information regarding the process of dealing with specific issues, please contact the Off-Campus Housing Office at 724-938-4444.