Legal Updates

Philly Renters Rights

On October 26, 2011 Philadelphia City Council passed § 9-804 of the Philadelphia Code.  The Ordinance provides renters with certain rights in Philadelphia Landlord/Tenant Court to contest evictions.  It is important that landlords and tenants are aware of these rights as they are increasingly enforced by the Philadelphia courts.  The Philadelphia Property Maintenance Code, Pennsylvania law, and Philadelphia Code provide various protections to tenants.  Some of the most common defenses asserted in Philadelphia landlord/tenant court are included in this post:

Good Cause

In Pennsylvania, a landlord must have a basis to evict a tenant.  In most cases they are breach of the lease, termination of the term, or nonpayment of rent.  In cases where the lease is for less than one year a landlord must have good cause.

According to Section 9-804(12) of the Philadelphia Code “good cause” includes:

  • Habitual non-payment or habitual late payment of rent by the tenant
  • Breach or non-compliance with a “material term” of the lease or rental agreement
  • Nuisance Activity engaged in by the tenant that interferes with others’ use and enjoyment of the property.
  • Tenant causes substantial damage to the property.
  • Tenant does not allow landlord access to the property, after the landlord has provided written notice.
  • Tenant refuses to sign an extension of the lease for generally the same lease terms.
  • Owner, or an immediate family member of the owner, is going to move into the unit.
  • Tenant refuses to agree to a reasonable rent increase or a change in the lease (landlord must provide notice to tenant and opportunity for response).
  • Owner wants to make renovations with an empty unit (must provide notice and options to tenant).

In order to meet the “good cause” requirements the landlord must state the good cause basis in advance.  The notice must be provided to the tenant in advance by personal service, posting to the property or certified mail.

Housing  Violations

Under the Philadelphia Code it is unlawful for a landlord to evict a tenant where there are open housing violations with Philadelphia Licenses and Inspection, unless the tenant has failed to pay rent, committed a nuisance, committed waste or caused the property to be in violation of the Philadelphia Code. Open housing violations may be a legal basis for a tenant to withhold rent or claim a rent abatement.

Retaliatory Evictions

The City Council Ordinance prohibits retaliatory evictions (i.e., terminating a lease) for reporting open housing violations; filing a housing violation complaint; exercising a recognized tenant right; or an incident of domestic violence in which the tenant was the victim.

Rental Increases

The ordinance requires a landlord to give notice of rental increases. Landlord’s must give sixty days-notice for a one-year lease or thirty days-notice for a term less than one year.  The notice must provide the amount of the rent increase, the effective date of the rent increase and the new amount due.

Obligation to Provide Heat

The Philadelphia Code requires all habitable room must be able to maintain a room temperature of at least 68 degrees from October 1 to April 30. PM-601.

Implied Warranty of Habitability

Pennsylvania law recognizes an implied warrant of habitability in every lease.  Pugh v. Holmes, 486 Pa. 272, 405 A.2d 897 (1978).  Under the implied warrant of habitability, a landlord has an obligation to maintain a habitable premises.  The tenant must provide notice of needed repairs and give the landlord a reasonable opportunity to perform those repairs.  Fair v. Negley, 257 Pa. Super. 50, 390 A. 2d 240 (1978). A tenant may withhold rent if there is a habitability issue.  In any residential landlord-tenant action where the landlord is seeking a monetary award the tenant may seek an abatement of the rent based on conditions of the property that may affect its habitability.

Burden of Proof

In a case brought by a landlord, the landlord must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the tenant violated the terms of the lease and the landlord complied with all applicable local ordinances.  Additionally, the landlord must prove by a preponderance of the evidence the amount of the damages that are claim.  The tenant must prove by a preponderance of the evidence any affirmative defense such as breach of the warranty of habitability. The landlord does not have the burden of proving that there are no violations of the Philadelphia Code.

Bankruptcy

The filing of bankruptcy generally imposes an “automatic stay” of all proceedings against the debtor, including an eviction from rental property. If the tenant files for bankruptcy before the entry of a judgment in a landlord-tenant action there is an automatic stay on eviction until the bankruptcy is resolved.

Rental Licensing Requirements

Most landlords must obtain a Certificate of Rental Suitability and Rental License to rent property in Philadelphia, PA.  If a landlord fails to obtain a Rental License, to comply with the requirements concerning a Certificate of Rental Suitability and Partners for Good Housing Handbook, or has a rental license that is suspended, the landlord “shall be denied the right to recover possession of the premises or to collect rent during or for the period of noncompliance or during or for the period of license suspension.”

Philadelphia Lead Disclosure Law

The Philadelphia Lead Disclosure Law requires landlord’s to provide lead safe certification to tenant’s where their property is constructed before 1978.  If the landlord fails to certify the property they may be unable to obtain possession and face liability for any damages. Finally, they may be sued for a rental abatement for their period of noncompliance with the Philadelphia Code.  While this law previously applied to tenants with children age six and under it is being expanded to contemplate all renters.

Philadelphia Landlord Tenant Lawyer

If you have a tenant issue speak with our experienced Philadelphia Landlord Tenant Lawyers about promptly and effectively resolving your eviction matter.  Many tenants in Philadelphia are represented by legal counsel.  Therefore, if you are filing an eviction it is important to have a clear understanding of the applicable laws and ordinances that govern your case.  For a free consultation contact our office at 267-535-9776.  Our office is located at 1628 John F. Kennedy Blvd., Suite 1301, Philadelphia, PA 19103.