Category Archives: Landlord Tenant

Can I do anything about my landlord?

Q: I bought a house and am trying to get out of my lease that doesn’t end until July. I am moving in April. The landlord said he would try and rent out the apartment so I wouldn’t be stuck with the bill. They posted an add but it had been a month and I started to realize they aren’t calling anyone back. They won’t even call people I sent them from my own ad. Also, I woke up last April with my ceiling leaking. They did not fix the roof until November and my ceiling until this past February. I was unable to sleep in my room because it was unsafe. Is there any way I can sue for not being able to use my bedroom for almost a year? (Swissvale, PA)

A: There is a common-law principal of constructive eviction that allows you to not pay rent in proportion to the percentage of your property that you are by no fault of your own, “constructively evicted” from. In your case, if your bedroom is one-quarter of your apartment space, you could deduct one-quarter from your rental payment. Now, this does not always go over well with the landlord. You should be prepared to defend this in court. Photographs, copies of letters to the landlord memorializing your complaints would help your case if push comes to shove before a District Justice.

What rights and options do we have?

Q: Landlord died, no will, I have lived there for eight years, cousin got involved with an attorney so he says, and won’t give me a receipt for this month’s rent. What rights and options do we have as renters from this point on?

A: Your rights will be stated in your written lease. If you don’t have a lease, or no current lease, your tenancy is month to month and you could be required to move with as little as thirty days of notice to you. Pay with a check, not cash. The check is your receipt.

Can I move into my deceased mother’s home since I paid some bills?

Q: My mother passed away the 26th of January and I have been helping her pay her bills. She has a roommate that is being a pain and is telling me I’m not allowed to move in. I have paperwork saying that I have been helping her and so forth. Her roommate is not on the lease and wasn’t helping. Do I have a leg to stand on or do I have to go to civil court?

A: If you are not on the lease, I do not believe you have a legal right to move in. Helping to pay her bills unfortunately will not give you any rights to be a tenant. If the roommate is not on the lease, then he or she is likely to be on a month to month lease. Unless the roommate agreed to pay the bills that you paid, I do not thing there are grounds to sue the roommate.

Must my landlord return my security deposit?

Q: Is landlord allowed to retain security deposit after broken lease? Had an apartment with a very laid back landlord. Also had a roommate who had to leave the lease, I couldn’t cover the rest of the rent. Gave the landlord a three month heads up, which verbally was OK with. We left the lease June 1st even though it ran until Sept 1st. No legal written statement of landlord being OK with this but I do know he is currently renting the spot and has been since July 1st. After talking with him about security deposit at the end of July over the phone, he claims there were $300 in cleaning but has not provided any sort of list. He still hasn’t sent us the security deposit back. I’m wondering what legal action I can take and since a lot of dealing with this landlord was ‘off the cuff’ am I legal obligated to fulfill the rest of the lease? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: In PA, a landlord has 30 days after the lease has ended or the leasehold is surrendered to return a security deposit after the tenant has requested in writing the return of the deposit and provided the landlord with his or her new forwarding address. As a matter of procedure, you should do this via certified mail, return receipt. If the landlord fails to return the money and has not explained a reason as to why he retained the deposit (i.e. clean up), the tenant can sue him for the deposit amount as well as damages. The landlord should be able to document his damage expenses. It must be damage and cannot be normal wear and tear. If you fear that since you left a month early, he could claim the month of June in unpaid rent, you may want to reconsider going after the deposit. An attorney would need to look at the lease before advising you.

Must my landlord return my security deposit?

Q: Is landlord allowed to retain security deposit after broken lease? Had an apartment with a very laid back landlord. Also had a roommate who had to leave the lease, I couldn’t cover the rest of the rent. Gave the landlord a three month heads up, which verbally was OK with. We left the lease June 1st even though it ran until Sept 1st. No legal written statement of landlord being OK with this but I do know he is currently renting the spot and has been since July 1st. After talking with him about security deposit at the end of July over the phone, he claims there were $300 in cleaning but has not provided any sort of list. He still hasn’t sent us the security deposit back. I’m wondering what legal action I can take and since a lot of dealing with this landlord was ‘off the cuff’ am I legal obligated to fulfill the rest of the lease? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: In PA, a landlord has 30 days after the lease has ended or the leasehold is surrendered to return a security deposit after the tenant has requested in writing the return of the deposit and provided the landlord with his or her new forwarding address. As a matter of procedure, you should do this via certified mail, return receipt. If the landlord fails to return the money and has not explained a reason as to why he retained the deposit (i.e. clean up), the tenant can sue him for the deposit amount as well as damages. The landlord should be able to document his damage expenses. It must be damage and cannot be normal wear and tear. If you fear that since you left a month early, he could claim the month of June in unpaid rent, you may want to reconsider going after the deposit. An attorney would need to look at the lease before advising you.

Must my landlord return my security deposit?

Q: Is landlord allowed to retain security deposit after broken lease? Had an apartment with a very laid back landlord. Also had a roommate who had to leave the lease, I couldn’t cover the rest of the rent. Gave the landlord a three month heads up, which verbally was OK with. We left the lease June 1st even though it ran until Sept 1st. No legal written statement of landlord being OK with this but I do know he is currently renting the spot and has been since July 1st. After talking with him about security deposit at the end of July over the phone, he claims there were $300 in cleaning but has not provided any sort of list. He still hasn’t sent us the security deposit back. I’m wondering what legal action I can take and since a lot of dealing with this landlord was ‘off the cuff’ am I legal obligated to fulfill the rest of the lease? (Pittsburgh, PA)

A: In PA, a landlord has 30 days after the lease has ended or the leasehold is surrendered to return a security deposit after the tenant has requested in writing the return of the deposit and provided the landlord with his or her new forwarding address. As a matter of procedure, you should do this via certified mail, return receipt. If the landlord fails to return the money and has not explained a reason as to why he retained the deposit (i.e. clean up), the tenant can sue him for the deposit amount as well as damages. If you fear that since you left a month early, he could claim the month of June in unpaid rent, you may want to reconsider going after the deposit. An attorney would need to look at the lease before advising you.

Landlord is selling the building and enters my apartment without my consent.

Q: My landlord wants access to my apartment while I I’m not there, is that allowed? What are the rules/rights do I have?He’s selling the house, has been for 4 years, and keeps coming to inspect it to make sure it is ready to be shown. I only have a problem because he keeps coming in when I not home,(I’m single & have two kids that live there) even when I told he I need notice, he doesn’t care, he just texts and shows up. Not ever waiting for me to answer back, or when I do answer & tell him I not going to be there or that my teenage son is there by himself he comes in anyway. What are my rights?

A: The PA standard is “reasonable notice” for a landlord to enter a tenant’s apartment. Unless the lease specifies terms of entry to the unit by the landlord you are stuck with this standard. Reasonable is obviously subject to interpretation, so 2:00 am obviously is not reasonable. You should expect reasonable from this landlord. If he continues, send him a certified letter expressing your concerns and what times are best for you. You may need a copy of this letter some day of you end up in court.

Can a Landlord evict a Tenant for smoking inside the unit?

Q: I was told the tenant only smoked outside, not in the house. Found out that isn’t true. Is there anything I can do about this? I rent to a woman (A) who I was told is a smoker, but ONLY outside the premises. Her AA sponsor, we’ll call her (B), is financially responsible person for the lease and (A) is the only tenant. (A) has been in the house a few days and I discovered ashtrays filled with cigarettes during a service call. I called (B) and questioned the smoking and (B) said (A) smoked outside when (A) lived with (B), because (B) is allergic to smoke. I felt deceived. I trusted (B’s) statement. (A) is mad because she feels she pays rent/utilities and it is HER house and she can smoke if she wants. How can I go back to the “No Smoking” rule in the house, when it was a verbal statement, not in the lease? If (A) is paying (B) money for the rent that is subletting and not allowed by lease. What should I do?

A:   If the lease is with A or B and the smoking prohibition is not in the lease, you may have a problem evicting based upon a breach of contract or violation of the lease. You saying that you were told that A only smokes outside doesn’t really help as A apparently never made a verbal promise to you. Even if A told you directly, a court may view the lease contract as superseding any verbal statements. I would send her a letter by certified mail informing her that she is not to smoke inside the unit and will be held accountable for all damages including carpet, drapery and fabric cleaning and painting and any other treatments are needed to get rid of smoke. Inform her that damages will be taken from her security deposit and she will be sued if there is a balance owed. Perhaps this will cause a change in her smoking habits. If you really cannot tolerate the smoke, which is understandable, go through with the eviction process with the understanding you may lose money on this deal.

Can a landlord charge for time and labor in PA?

Q: My tenants left without a 60-day written notice required by their lease agreement. One day they just send me a text message that their lease expired and the keys are on the kitchen counter top. Of course they did trash the place. I even found dog poop in the house, when they were not authorized to have pets in. My husband spent 86.5 hours fixing the property (carpentry, painting, cleaning, yard work) and I spent 15 hours of cleaning as well. Their security deposit was $1000 which covered materials. Can we charge for our time and labor and is $12/hour reasonable for his labor and $10/hour for mine when we go to small claim court?

A: Generally, yes. You can keep their security deposit to use in repairing damage they caused. Plus, if you sue them, you can charge materials and a reasonable labor rate for repairs to damages as long as it wasn’t normal wear and tear you are fixing. You need to keep a record of everything, take photos and you also may want a contractor to put a written repair estimate together, so your estimate appears reasonable. Sometimes court view high damage bills from landlords who do the work themselves with suspicion. Remember to respond to their written request for their security deposit in writing informing specifically them of why the deposit will not be returned.

How do we break my brother’s lease?

Q: Our brother will be hospitalized for over a year due to total blindness. How can we get him out of his lease with 7 months remaining on the lease. He has to be hospitalized in another city for total rehabilitation. He is totally blind with frontal lobe tram.

A: Of course I would need to check your lease to give you more certain advice. However, I can advise generally. You would need to immediately notify the landlord in writing. Tell him that your brother has vacated the apartment on a certain date, and that you want the security deposit back. I would send this certified mail, with your brother’s new address on it. Even though you are breaching the lease the landlord has a duty to find a new tenant ASAP to limit his damages. If the landlord sues your brother at the District Justice level, he will need to show his efforts to mitigate his damages by advertising for a new tenant. In addition, vacate and clean the apartment as soon as possible and photograph everything. Unless he can show difficulty in finding a replacement tenant, your damages will be mitigated.