Tenants' Rights & Responsibilities
Are you renting your house, apartment, or mobile home? What are your rights and duties as a tenant? What is the eviction process? What are your options if the landlord won’t make necessary repairs? How do you get your security deposit back after you move out?
It is important for tenants to understand their rights and responsibilities when renting to avoid being evicted or owing money to a landlord. Landlords must take tenants to court to evict them and cannot lock tenants out or turn off the heat, electricity or water. Read more about tenants’ rights and responsibilities in the frequently asked questions (FAQs) section or in the other housing resources.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people have not been able to regular work. This may have been due to illness, school closures, lack of availability of child care, vulnerable family members, or the incredible effect the pandemic has had on jobs. This has impacted the ability of tenants to pay rent on a nationwide scale. In response, there are now rental assistance programs available in every county in Pennsylvania. To find out more about what is available for you, click the link below.
I didn’t sign a lease—do I have any rights?
Yes, oral leases are just as valid as written leases. Pennsylvania law protects all tenants, whether they have a written or oral lease. This means that if your landlord plans to evict you, they must go through the eviction process. You can protect yourself by doing simple things like getting a receipt each time you pay rent, including when you first rent the unit. This receipt should show how much you paid, the rental period, the date of payment, and the address of the rental unit. It is important to save these receipts for future proof that you rented the unit and that you paid your rent.
For more information about your rights, please see our handbook on Landlord/Tenant issues.
My landlord gave me an eviction notice but it isn’t notarized. Is it valid?
Eviction notices don’t have to be notarized or witnessed, or sent by a lawyer. However, they do have to clearly state the landlord’s intends to evict you. Pennsylvania law sets out the process a landlord must take to give you notice and evict you. For example, the law requires that a notice to quit must be hand delivered or posted on a door that is regularly used.
Read our Landlord/Tenant Handbook to learn more about your rights and what you can do if you are being evicted.
My landlord threatened to shut off the power or water. Is that legal?
No, it is not legal. This is a form of "self-help" eviction. If your landlord has illegally turned off your power or water, there are several options for help. You can contact your local code enforcement office, the attorney general's office, or you can contact NPLS or a private attorney. If necessary, an attorney can help you get a court order that requires your landlord to turn the water or power back on and to stop them from doing it again in the future.
Note that if you contact code enforcement, they may require the landlord to turn on the utility. If the landlord does not comply, you may have to move out because the unit may be considered "uninhabitable." This would be considered illegal "self-help" eviction. If you file a lawsuit asking the court for money damages, the court may require a landlord pay your expenses and up to three times any damages. If this is happening to you, contact NPLS or a private attorney as soon as possible for help.
My landlord is trying to evict me in the winter and I have nowhere to go. Is that legal?
If you are behind in rent, or have violated other parts of the lease, you can be evicted no matter the weather, your age, the fact that you lost your job, or the fact that you have a disability. Pennsylvania law does require that your landlord take you to court to evict you.
Manufactured home owners who rent lots in Manufactured home communities may have additional rights. See our Landlord/Tenant handbook for more info.
My landlord told me he was getting the police to throw me out. Will the police do that?
No, the police will tell your landlord to go to the magistrate and follow the law. Generally, there are multiple steps the landlord must take to legally evict someone. If the police do get involved without a court order, there may be civil rights violations. Remain calm and show the police that you are a tenant. You should contact an attorney to help you enforce your rights.
How long does it take to evict someone once a landlord has filed a complaint at the Magisterial District Court?
Depending on how you respond, it can take as few as 28 days before you can be locked out by a constable. During these 28 days, the court will schedule a hearing and make a decision about whether your landlord can evict you. You should go to the hearing so that you can tell your side of the story. If the judge makes the decision to evict, you have 10 days to file an appeal of the possession. If you do not file an appeal, the landlord can ask for an "order for possession" that will give you 10 days to get out of the property before a constable can assist the landlord in locking you out.
If you file an appeal of the Magisterial District Judge's decision, the timeline for eviction could be much longer. You should contact NPLS or an attorney to talk about this option.
Is there any way I can prevent the eviction if I can get the money I owe to the landlord after the hearing?
It depends. If you are being evicted just because you owe rent. The judge should enter a judgment for "Possession granted if money judgment not satisfied." This is often referred to as "pay and stay."
In this case, if you pay the money owed in full any time prior to the eviction date, you will be able to avoid an eviction and remain in the home. If you pay the landlord in full, including court costs, within 10 days of the judgment, no eviction will be scheduled. If you do not pay within 10 days or file an appeal and pay a bond if required, the landlord may request an Order for Possession. An eviction date will be scheduled ten days after the Order for Possession is posted on your door by a constable. Up to and including that date, you can pay the judgment in full to avoid the eviction.
If you pay before the eviction date, you should make arrangements with the landlord and the constable and keep a receipt for proof of payment. If you plan to pay on the date of the eviction, you will have to pay the constable directly. Make sure you have the money owed in cash. If you try to pay by check, the constable will not take the money and the eviction will proceed as scheduled. If you paid the landlord in full, the landlord should tell the MDJ to have the judgment marked “satisfied.” Call the court to make sure the landlord did this.
Should I withhold my rent to get my landlord to make repairs?
Withholding rent is one of the options that a tenant can take to make sure a landlord repairs a property when there are serious problems with the rental unit that make it dangerous to live there. Before taking this drastic step, you must notify the landlord in writing and give them an opportunity to fix the problems. If the repair is not made, you should talk to NPLS or a private attorney about whether you should use this option and how to do it the right way. Once you have withheld rent, it is important that you not spend the money. If your landlord does not agree with you, they may file an eviction action where a judge will decide how much rent you owe. If you do not have the money to pay that judgement, you could be evicted.
Look at the Self-help Handbook for Tenants (Getting Repairs chapter) for more information about needed repairs, including sample letters you can send to your landlord.
How do I get my security deposit back?
When you move out, you should take pictures of the entire rental unit in case the landlord does not return your full deposit or tries to charge you for damages you did not cause. You must give your landlord written notice of an address where you can receive mail, but it doesn’t have to be your new address. It can be a PO Box or a family member’s address.
Your landlord has 30 days to mail you the security deposit. If they do not return the full amount, they must send you a list of damages that you caused and how much it cost to fix the damages. If you do not agree with the list of damages, or if they do not send one, you can file a lawsuit at the local Magisterial District Court in the area the rental unit was located. You can ask for up to twice the security deposit or amount that should not have been held back. You can use the pictures you took when you moved out to prove that you left the unit in good condition.
I own a manufactured (mobile) home but rent the lot. What are my rights?
If you are renting a mobile home from the owner or not living in a community, then the landlord tenant rules apply. But because manufactured homes are usually a much more significant investment, there are special rights to help avoid loss of the property.
You can only be evicted from a manufactured home community for the following reasons:
- Non-payment of rent;
- Violating the rules of the community more than once in a six-month period;
- If the community closes; or
- If the community changes its use.
You cannot be forced to move without written notice and court hearing. The notice must be sent by certified or registered mail. The notice must state the reasons why you are being asked to move. If you are being evicted for non-payment of rent, the notice must give you:
- 30 days between September 1 & March 31 OR
- 15 days between April 1 and August 31
If you are being evicted for a breach of the lease or the end of the term, the notice must give you:
- 90 days if your lease is for a year or more OR
- 30 days if your lease is for less than a year.
If you are being evicted for violating the community rules or the lease, the notice must state exactly what you did to violate the rules. The community owner must enforce the rules against everyone in the community in the same way. If you only violate the rules once, you cannot be evicted. If you violate the rules a second time within six months, you can be evicted if the owner gives you the proper notice and goes through the eviction process.
Visit the Manufactured Homes section of the Self-help Handbook for Tenants to learn more about your rights.
Does the COVID-19 Pandemic affect my rights in Public or Subsidized Housing?
While the COVID-19 crisis continues, HUD is allowing public housing authorities to waive certain rules and procedures in the interest of public safety. Local housing authorities are encouraged, but not required, to adopt temporary new rules based on the recommendations. HUD has also issued guidance to housing authorities encouraging then to be flexible.
Many local housing authorities have relaxed their rules for reporting changes of income. Changes of income should still be timely reported to the housing authority by mail, fax, phone message and/or e-mail to the tenant’s assigned case worker. Some housing authorities are allowing tenants to self-certify their change in income by signing a sworn statement and providing it to their housing authority by mail, e-mail, or fax. Tenants should hold on to any paperwork to provide at a later date if it is requested. Note that the $1,200.00 coronavirus stimulus payments and the advance Child Tax Credit payments ARE NOT considered income that would have to be reported.
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