Philadelphia tenants’ rights have been in the news recently. Over 50% of residents living in Philadelphia are renters. Renters in Philadelphia pay 30% to 50% more of their monthly incomes to rent a home than other renters around the company. As a result of the high rent prices, in 2018, 2,300 evictions took place in Philadelphia.
According to a recent article in the Philadelphia Weekly, data gathered regarding Philadelphia evictions showed that perhaps as many as 12% of evictions are possibly unjust. At least 12% of evictions were conducted in clear violation of Philadelphia’s landlord and tenant law. Additionally, 20% of people who enter the city homeless shelter list eviction by a landlord as the cause of their homelessness. Understanding your rights as a tenant will help you as a renter in the city.
Tenant Rights Under the Landlord-Tenant Act
Allowing categories of people per the federal Fair Housing Act:
- Familial status
- National origin
Additionally, denying a potential tenant based on his or her age or pregnancy status is also illegal. Landlords cannot discriminate against people based on the categories listed above when doing any of the following:
- Refuse to rent housing
- Refuse to negotiate over the rental price of the property
- Deny that housing is available or make housing unavailable for the applicant
- Offer different privileges, terms, or conditions for the rental of the housing based on a protected category
- Advertise available rental properties in a discriminatory way
- Coerce, threaten, or intimidate anyone based on their protected category
The Fair Housing Act and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act cover all types of rental housing.
Tenant Rights for Families with Children
Families with children also have protection under the Fair Housing Act. Landlords cannot discriminate against individuals and families with minor children, pregnant women, or any person securing legal custody of a child. The following types of discrimination are illegal in Pennsylvania:
- A policy that “no children” are allowed in the housing
- Refusing to rent to families with children under a certain age
- Rejecting families because of lead-based paint
- Stating that parents and children cannot share a bedroom on the rental application
- Refusing a family with children because the property is not suitable for children
- Segregating housing units by only allowing children in one area of the housing
Can Lawmakers Refuse to Accept Social Security or Disability Income for Rent Payment
Under Pennsylvania law, a renter’s source of income is a protected class. In other words, if you pay for your rent with a Housing Choice Voucher from the Housing Authority, or through Social Security Disability or Social Security income, a landlord cannot refuse you on that basis. Additionally, a landlord cannot refuse you because you are unemployed when you have verifiable benefits that will cover rent.
Unenforceable Terms in the Lease Agreement
A lease agreement is a binding contract between the landlord and the tenant. The tenant must adhere to the amount of rent and the time rent is due. The lease can also state if late fees will be required, the amount of the security deposit, and requirements to renew or terminate a lease. The lease agreement should also state which maintenance jobs the tenant must do himself or herself.
Many provisions of a lease agreement are enforceable. This means that a landlord can take the tenant to court to enforce the requirements of the lease agreement. However, some terms in a lease agreement are unenforceable, even if the tenant agrees to them in writing. Terms in a lease agreement that the landlord cannot enforce in court include the following:
- A tenant cannot be made to be responsible for normal maintenance and repairs of the building
- The lease agreement cannot say that the tenant must accept the rental property “as is.” Landlords must offer each tenant an implied warranty of habitability. This warranty requires the landlord to maintain the property reasonably considering it is a rental property.
- The tenant can never waive his or her right to represent himself or herself in the court of law in the lease agreement
- The tenant cannot agree to allow the landlord to break into the rental location and change the lots should the tenant breach any of the terms in the lease agreement
- The tenant cannot waive his or her right to a hearing in a court of law
What is an Implied Warranty of Habitability
The implied warranty of habitability can be extremely helpful for renters. Landlords make a promise or warranty that he or she will provide a home that is sanitary, healthful, and safe. Tenants can never waive their right to a livable home. When an issue comes up that makes the property uninhabitable, the landlord must fix the problem within a reasonable period of time. Landlords cannot waive the implied warranty of habitability by a clause in the rental agreement.
Landlords do not have a legal obligation to make cosmetic repairs, such as painting over faded paint, making cosmetic upgrades, or installing new carpet. But, when a serious defect takes place that affects the ability to live in the unit or the safety of the tenants, the landlords must make repairs. The following conditions are examples of problems that Philadelphia landlords must fix:
- Lack of proper heating in the winter
- Lack of cold and hot running water
- Sewage systems that do not work properly
- Rodent or insect infestations
- No ability to secure the premises with locks on windows and doors
- Stairs, porches, and handrails that are unsafe
- Dangerous electrical wiring or a lack of electricity
- A broken refrigerator (when the landlord is responsible for repairs to the refrigerator)
- Unsafe structural components that make occupying the premises dangerous
If Your Rights as a Tenant Have Been Violated, We can Help
At Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., we put our experience representing Philadelphia tenants to use for our clients. We help clients save a lot of time and money by representing them in their disputes. Contact our law firm today to schedule your initial consultation.