Lease agreements are common and familiar documents to landlords but their provisions are governed by state laws and municipal ordinances as well as common law. Landlords and tenants have certain rights and obligations to each other regarding the providing of essential utilities, repairs, disclosures, security deposits, termination, rent and other facets of a landlord/tenant relationship.
When drafting your own Pennsylvania residential lease agreement or using someone else’s, it is essential that your contract contain certain basic provisions and that you understand any restrictions on your rights, your obligations and those of your tenants and the remedies in case of a breach.
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Basic Provisions in a Residential Lease
There are certain provisions that you want to include in your residential lease agreement and there are provisions that are not allowed. You may not include any provision whereby the tenant waives the right to sue the landlord for negligence or waives any other action regarding the landlord’s legal obligations. The tenant cannot waive the right to a jury trial or the right to recover attorney’s fees or any other damages related to the landlord’s breach of the lease, implied covenant to provide a habitable residence or attempts to evict the tenant without a valid court order.
Federal and state laws prohibit discriminating against tenants or potential tenants on the basis of race, color, creed, familial status, age, ancestry, national origin or disability. You also are subject to liability if you terminate or otherwise take measures to punish or evict a tenant for reporting code or housing violations to a government authority or for joining a tenant’s union.
If your tenant has a disability, you may not refuse to rent to the individual nor may you refuse to allow the tenant to make reasonable adjustments or modifications to accommodate the disability. You may be able to require the tenant to restore the unit to its original condition under certain circumstances. Reasonable accommodations includes the disabled tenant’s use of a service animal. No additional security deposit can be charged for the support or service dog.
The following are basic provisions for your Pennsylvania residential lease agreement:
- Name of the landlord and address where rent payments, repair requests and termination notices are to be sent
- Names of the tenants who will be residing in the unit
- Description of the premises
- Term of the lease- weekly, month-to-month or yearly
- Notices for termination or vacation of premises
- Restrictions on use of the premises (no commercial use or illegal activities)
- Security deposit (there are restrictions on amounts)
- Date when rent is due each month
- Late fees and when they apply
- Rent increase notices
- Responsibility for maintenance and utilities
- Appliances in the unit
- Obligations of landlord
- Obligations of tenant
- Pet clause and deposit if applicable
- Subletting clause
- Repairs and maintenance responsibilities
- Parking spaces and use of common areas
- Right of landlord entry upon reasonable notice—24 hours is the norm
- Disclosure of the presence of any lead-based paint or hazards on the property for rental property built before 1978—both landlord and tenant must sign an EPA-approved disclosure form and the tenant provided an EPA pamphlet entitled “Protect Your Family from Lead in Your Home.”
Pennsylvania law puts limits on what a landlord may charge for a security deposit. It may be no more than 2-month’s rent for the first year of the lease and one month’s rent for additional years. Interest on the deposit is required if it is kept for at least 2 years. As landlord, you may keep a sum equivalent to 1% per annum upon the security deposit as an administrative fee. Any fund over $100 or which is kept for more than 2 years must be deposited in an escrow account in a federal or state financial institution.
A deposit must be returned in full to the tenant within 30 days after the unit is vacated. The deposit or any portion of it may be kept but only if the landlord provides to the tenant within the 30-day period a written list of the deductions. The deposit can be used for damage caused by the tenant’s negligence or that of guests and not for normal or ordinary wear and tear and deterioration.
If you do keep any part of the deposit without the written notice to the tenant, you forfeit your right to withhold any part of the deposit and may be subject to a penalty of twice the amount of the security deposit plus interest.
As landlord, you must allow a tenant up to 10 days past the due date to pay the rent before issuing a notice to evict. Pennsylvania has no laws regarding late fees but you may not charge more than $50 for a check returned for insufficient funds unless the financial institution charged you more.
No notice is required for a rent increase, though other states generally use 30-days for month-to-month leases and 60-days for yearly rents.
Repair and Deduct is Allowed
Pennsylvania also has no statute regarding a tenant’s right to make repairs that have been requested but not done by the landlord within a reasonable time and any such attempts to withhold the rent may not be upheld in court. However, if the landlord fails to provide essential services such as heat, hot water, electricity or plumbing, or the unit is otherwise uninhabitable or unsafe, the tenant is permitted to deposit the rent into an escrow account.
You must give the tenant 30-days’ notice to vacate for a yearly lease and 15-days’ notice on a month-to-month.
As indicated above, tenants have 10 days past the due date to pay the rent before you can issue an eviction notice but there is no similar requirement for other specified lease violations such as using the unit for commercial purposes, having unapproved persons living there or unauthorized pets, engaging in unlawful conduct or otherwise causing constant disturbances to other tenants.
Except for Philadelphia where there is no dollar limit, you can bring an action to collect overdue rent and to evict a tenant in small claims court if the rent owed is no more than $12,000.
Also, landlords have no statutory duty to mitigate their losses from evicting a tenant or from a tenant who breaks the lease and leaves before the expiration of the lease term. Normally, a landlord would have to use best efforts to find a replacement tenant or not be able to collect all of the rent due under the lease agreement. In Pennsylvania, landlords may simply wait out the rental period before suing the tenant for the unpaid rent due under the lease though collection may be difficult and costly.
Right of Entry
Although there is no minimum time required before a landlord may enter a unit after giving notice, a reasonable time is 24 hours and this should be indicated in the lease. For emergency repairs, communicate with the tenant if possible for entry sooner than 24 hours. If the tenant is absent or fails to respond regarding emergencies, then any entry after a good faith effort to communicate is probably permissible.
If the building you own has at least 4 rental units, you must allow the tenants to sublet. Otherwise, the tenant cannot sublet without your consent though you should include this in your residential lease agreement so that the tenant is at least aware of the prohibition.
Pennsylvania residential lease agreements must adhere to certain state and federal laws. Include the provisions indicated herein as well as any other relevant terms that do not conflict with state laws. It is recommended that you consult with a landlord/tenant attorney to ensure your residential lease agreement comports with all federal, state and municipal laws and ordinances.