Recent Publications By:

BRAD N. SOMMER, ESQ.

BNS@SommerLawGroup.com

 

Many Pittsburgh landlords are frustrated by the current state of landlord-tenant law, as many rights under current law are ceded to the tenant. Landlord frustration is especially evident in the city proper; Pittsburgh neighborhoods like Oakland and Bloomfield are filled with college students who can be noisy, negligent of property, or late with rent. However, a landlord has certain rights to his or her rental properties, and can require of tenants certain actions and behaviors that are perfectly legal. The following article will explore
some landlord rights in the tenant relations and property management arenas.

Rights of landlords renting Pittsburgh, PA properties

One of the most important rights a landlord has is the right to evict tenants. There are three conditions under which the landlord is legally able to evict tenants from a rental property:

  1. The tenant has not paid rent owed in full.
  2. The tenant's lease term is up, and the landlord wishes to put the property up for rent or sale.
  3. The tenant violated a section of the rental agreement (or lease).

Though there are fewer concrete rules outlining how an eviction notice should be delivered, it helps the landlord's case immensely if he or she follows common sense.

First, the landlord should not deliver an eviction notice by mail. Just as a citizen can ignore a jury duty summons by saying he or she never received it, a tenant facing imminent eviction can simply deny that he or she ever received an eviction notice. The landlord has every right to state in the lease the maximum length of time permissible between eviction notice and removal of tenants. Many landlords opt not to do this, however - in which case, they are advised to refer to the Landlord-Tenant Law of 1951. It is the only rubric available for tenant eviction in Pennsylvania.

The landlord can lawfully evict the tenant with 30 days notice for leases less than 365 days (1 year) in length. 90 days notice is required for leases one year or longer. Some landlords do not use written leases with tenants. Legally, this is an inadvisable move; the landlord does not want to inadvertently cede rights to the tenant. However, if the landlord does not use written leases, 30 days' notice for eviction is standard.

If tenant eviction proceedings are pending, the landlord's best bet is to keep written documentation of all communications, payments, and incidents with tenants. The landlord must be prepared to demonstrate when a tenant stopped paying rent, how much rent the tenant owes, and/or how the tenant violated terms of the lease. If the tenant brings suit against the landlord for eviction-related grievances, this documentation is invaluable. In order to keep the law on his or her side, a landlord must not take rash actions against a tenant facing eviction. The landlord should not use police to forcibly evict the tenant before the eviction notice term is up, nor should he or she resort to "dirty fighting tactics," such as locking the tenant out or cutting off all utilities services to the rental home or unit.

The following form can be used if the landlord wishes to bypass eviction notice requirements and bring the eviction to magistrate court:

NOTICE TO LEAVE THE LEASED PROPERTY (NOTICE TO QUIT)

Tenant agrees to give up certain legal rights as provided by the LANDLORD and TENANT ACT OF 1951. No notice will be required to be given by Landlord and Tenant to leave and give up the leased property.

Tenant will be asked to leave the leased property without notice under any of the following conditions.

  1. Tenant does not leave the property at the end of the lease term.
  2. Tenant breaks any of the terms and conditions of the lease.
  3. Tenant fails, upon demand, to make all rent and other payments when due.

__________________ Tenant's Initials

Other Pittsburgh, PA landlord rights

The landlord has the right to charge the tenant late fees for rent past due. It is recommended that the landlord disclose the past-due penalty sum in the lease before the tenant signs it. The landlord also has the right to request a security deposit of an amount up to and including two months' rent. The landlord is prohibited by Pennsylvania state law from charging higher amounts; however, it is also the landlord's legal right to charge a once-yearly security deposit, so long as each deposit owed after the first year of rental does not exceed one month's rent.

It is advisable that a landlord return the security deposit to a tenant or tenants once the rental lease is up. However, a landlord can refuse to refund a tenant part or all of the security deposit if the tenant has caused damages to the unit that are not the result of natural aging or wear. To avoid legal disputes, the landlord should meticulously document the condition of the apartment before the tenant moves in and after he or she leaves, including photographing unit interiors and exteriors. Landlords are required by law to provide a list enumerating tenant-caused damages 30 days or less after tenants vacate rental units.

Many legal hassles with tenants can be avoided by carefully pre-screening all would-be renters. Though a landlord is prohibited by law from turning away tenants on the basis of gender, race, creed, or other personal characteristics, landlords can turn down tenant applications if tenants have poor credit, smoke, or own pets - all of these tenant characteristics can interfere with the rental process. A landlord has the legal right to run a credit and background check on the tenant. To avoid issues with late or non-existent rent
payments, the landlord should contact a potential tenant's current employer(s), and request pay stubs from any prospective tenants as proof of ability to pay rent. Finally, because people are often prone to repeating the same behavior time and again, references from former landlords are crucial to avoid potential tenant problems.

Sommer Law Group provides legal counsel to individuals in Pittsburgh, as well as greater Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The attorney group has expert counsel in legal areas such as landlord-tenant disputes, business and corporate law, and mergers and acquisitions.