If you have recently processed an eviction in Philadelphia, you have likely heard about the Certificate of Rental Suitability. Since 2017, the Philadelphia Municipal Court has refused to authorize an eviction where the landlord does not hand this certificate to the tenant. So what is a Certificate of Rental Suitability, and what bearing does it have on your landlord and tenant case?
THE PHILADELPHIA PROPERTY MAINTENANCE CODE
The Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code governs the Certificate of Rental Suitability. Pursuant to PM-102.6.4,
No person shall collect rent with respect to any property that is required to be licensed pursuant to this code unless a valid license has been issued for said property. At the inception of each tenancy, an owner shall provide to the tenant a Certificate of Rental Suitability issued by the Department no more than sixty (60) days prior to the inception of the tenancy along with a copy of the owner’s attestation to the suitability of the dwelling unit as received by the department and a copy of the “City of Philadelphia Partners for Good Housing Handbook” issued by the Department and any succeeding documents.
For years the Certificate of Rental Suitability Requirement was ignored by the Courts. Then in 2017 the Courts began to enforce the portion of the code. A Certificate of Rental Suitability can be obtained here.
The Certificate is essentially a verification that the rental property is in compliance with the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code and in a habitable condition. If the tenant has reported violations to Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections then you will be unable to obtain the Certificate. If you cannot get the Certificate, you will have to make repairs and have the property cleared by Licenses and Inspections before your application will be accepted.
CERTIFICATE OF RENTAL SUITABILITY AND RENT COLLECTION
In Philadelphia Municipal Court, judges will not allow you to collect rent for any period BEFORE you obtained the Certificate. For example, if a tenant moves in December and defaults immediately, and you obtain the Certificate of Rental Suitability in February, you have essentially waived any claim to rent in December and January. However, there is case law that suggests this may begin to change.
The Pennsylvania Superior Court recently held that a landlord may collect back rent after bringing his property into compliance with the Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code. Traditionally, a landlord has been unable to collect back rent for any period of time when she did not have a Housing License, Certificate of Rental Suitability, or Partner for Good Housing Handbook.
This is a major breakthrough, since landlords are usually barred from rent collection without having these documents at the inception of the tenancy. In Richetti C., v. Ellis , the Superior Court suggested that a landlord may collect unpaid rent after meeting requisite Philadelphia licensing requirements. In Philadelphia a Housing License, Certificate of Rental Suitability, and Partners for Good Housing Handbook is required to rent property. PM-102.1 Without these documents, the City of Philadelphia will not allow you evict or collect rent from a tenant who breached the lease.
Philadelphia also disallows self-help evictions. This makes it exceptionally difficult for a landlord to evict a tenant if he was unaware of the City’s stringent rental requirements. Under the old law, a landlord could not sue for any back rent during any time she was in noncompliance with the Property Maintenance Code.
NEW CASE LAW FOR LANDLORDS IN PHILLY EVICTIONS
However, the Richetti Court suggests that a landlord may collect back following subsequent compliance with the Code. According to the Pa. Superior Court, noncompliance does not… “prohibit landlords from collecting back rent after returning to compliance.” The Court also further restricted tenant rights to sue landlords, holding that a tenant may not sue for rent already paid based on procedural noncompliance with the Code.
This is a breakthrough for landlords in tenant eviction cases. In Philadelphia, it is difficult for a landlord in noncompliance to process an eviction. First the landlord must obtain the requisite licenses. This may be hindered by a tenant who reports housing violations to Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections. Housing violations will bar a landlord from getting required documents until passing an inspection. Sometimes the tenant will then obstruct a landlords entry to make necessary repairs. Without the ability to enter and repair, the landlord is unable to obtain a Certificate of Rental Suitability in some situations.
In situations such as this, it is critical you speak with a Philadelphia landlord tenant lawyer to discuss your options. Our lawyers will subpoena Philadelphia police and/or license and inspection officers to court to argue licensing is not required under such circumstances. We have successfully processed evictions in cases where tenants thwart landlords entry to repair properties.
Per Richetti, after obtaining a license the landlord can collect back rent. A landlord can now reasonably ask for back rent during a period of noncompliance with the Property Maintenance Code.
If you are having difficulty evicting a delinquent tenant because of no Certificate of Rental Suitability, Housing License, or Partners for Good Housing Handbook contact the Law Office of Mark D. Copoulos. We will help you obtain these documents, and now we can help you collect unpaid rent during a period of noncompliance with the law. Call now for a free consultation of your legal matter and get your property back.