Tenants' Rights & Responsibilities
Your Responsibilities as a Tenant in Pennsylvania
As a tenant, you are renting someone else’s property. To create a responsible tenancy, you should comply with your lease along with the following list of duties:
- Pay rent when due, not the day after or 5 days after. If the rent is due on the 1st of the month, pay it on the 1st of the month. As a tenant, you are legally responsible to pay the full amount of rent on time in accordance with your lease agreement. If you do not pay your rent on time, your landlord can file an eviction action against you. It does not matter if you are disabled or lost your job, have a sick family member, have children, or if it is during the winter months—you can still be evicted. If you believe you will not be able to pay your rent in full and on time, you should tell your landlord as soon as possible. Do not wait until the rent is due or after the due date. Your landlord will assume the worst if he does not receive a rent check from you. Explain why you cannot pay and ask to make a payment arrangement. If your landlord agrees to a payment agreement, get it in writing and keep a copy. If you do not abide by the agreement, the landlord will be able to evict you.
- Get a receipt. Save receipts for all payments to your landlord. Pay your rent by check, if possible, because your canceled check gives you a record that you have paid your rent. If your landlord does not accept personal checks and you pay rent by cash or money order, get a record of your payment. Insist that your landlord give you a receipt for each rental payment that you make and save all receipts.
- If you are responsible for any utilities, they must be paid on time. If not, this could result in an eviction.
- Comply with all terms and conditions of the lease.
- Comply with rules and regulations included in the lease or separately signed addendum(s).
- Comply with the requirements of Pennsylvania law, local ordinances, and housing codes.
- Refrain from disturbing the peace of other tenants and neighbors.
- Refrain from damaging the premises. Be sure no one living with or visiting you damages the property, as you may be financially responsible for those damages.
- Notify the landlord of any serious defects (or needed repairs) in the dwelling that may cause the building to deteriorate. Be sure to follow the notice provisions outlined in your lease. If your lease does not provide specific notice instructions, put your request for repairs in writing and make sure you keep a copy for your records!
- Be financially responsible for any damages resulting from actions or negligence (other than normal wear and tear) that you or your family have caused.
- Keep the premises clean.
- Allow the landlord, landlord’s representatives, or local government inspector reasonable access for inspection and repairs.
- Do not allow persons who are not on the lease to live in the rental unit.
- Do not engage or allow anyone to engage in criminal activity, including illegal drugs or allowing underage drinking on the premises. Any of these items could result in eviction.
- If you change your locks, make sure you get permission from your landlord first and then give him/her copies of the keys. The landlord is legally allowed to have a full set of keys for any locks you install.
Most landlords carry property insurance, which covers property damage but not your possessions. Renters insurance (which is optional, but some landlords may require) can be purchased to cover your furniture and other personal possessions. The cost of renters insurance is roughly about $175- $200 per year, which averages to about fifty cents per day. Renters insurance can generally be obtained from any insurance company that sells homeowners insurance.
Introduce yourself to your neighbors and become part of the neighborhood. Maintain a friendly relationship with them. Neighbors can help one another in many ways, such as keeping an eye out for illegal activity.
One of the ways to end up with poor neighborhood relations is to disturb your neighbors with loud noise. If you plan to have a party, keep it under control and end the party at a decent hour. It is also a good idea to let your neighbors know when you plan such a gathering and try to cooperate with them during special circumstances, such as when your neighbor has an illness. You may want to modify or change your plans so that their special request can be met. They are more likely to cooperate with you if you cooperate with them.
Neighborliness also means good upkeep and maintenance of the exterior of the building. This means that the lawn and shrubs should be well maintained and that trash should not be left outside. In apartment buildings it is important to respect all common areas—hallways, stairs, or grounds. Do not leave trash in these areas or obstruct the entrance to the building. It is also a good idea not to play or create excessive noise in public halls and stairs for safety reasons as well as in consideration of your neighbors.
To be a good neighbor, you must try to see that your guests do not disturb your neighbors. It is not always possible to control everything your guests do, but you have the right to expect them to behave in a way that will not antagonize others.
If a tenant or a tenant’s guests harasses or threatens to harm others in the building or neighborhood, the landlord may have a responsibility under Fair Housing laws or municipal ordinances to evict the tenant in order to protect the safety of the neighbors and/or other tenants.
Problems with Other Tenants
If you are experiencing problems with other tenants, report the problem to the landlord. Under the Fair Housing Act, if a tenant harasses another tenant based on their race, national origin, disability, or other protected class, a landlord is required by law to address the issue and prevent the harassment from continuing. If you feel threatened by another person, call the police. Follow up with a report to your landlord in writing. Keep a copy for yourself. Explain the problem and ask the landlord to address the problem. It is usually best to keep the letter clear and concise and stick to the facts. Follow up if the problem persists. Keep copies of all correspondence.
You are bound to the terms of the lease so if you break your lease and move out, you can still be held liable for rent for the remainder of the lease term. If the landlord takes action against you in court, you will need to demonstrate that the landlord was violating the terms of the lease by failing to enforce your right to quiet enjoyment of the property or neglecting to prevent discriminatory harassment. You will want to be able to present evidence that you did everything you could to notify the landlord of the problem and asked him/her to resolve the problem before you moved out.
You have the right to invite social guests for reasonable periods of time and to have business visitors in your rental unit without the interference of the landlord. Guests must comply with all rules regarding common areas that apply to tenants.
Allowing Others to Move In
Your lease will specify who is allowed to occupy the rental property with you. If you want to have
someone move in with you or stay for an extended period of time, you will need to ask the landlord’s permission. The landlord might want to perform background checks on the new tenant, raise the rent, or require that they be added to the lease. Make sure that any agreement allowing others to move in with you is in writing.
Tenants’ Right to Privacy
Pennsylvania Law states that in every lease (whether written or verbal), there is a promise that the landlord will not unreasonably interfere with your right to possess the leased premises. This Covenant of Quiet Enjoyment, also includes the right to privacy. The rent paid not only gives you as a tenant a roof over your head, but also ensures the right to enjoy the premises without reasonable and excessive intrusions by the landlord.
Can a landlord enter without permission?
Landlords only have the right to reasonable access to the leased premises. If the landlord enters your rental unit for no reason or disturbs you at night, he or she may be breaching the lease. The landlord does have the right to enter rental premises occasionally for reasonable purpose including inspection and maintenance, repairs, or to show the property to potential buyers or renters. Reasonable also means that the landlord should come at a reasonable time, give you advance notice first, and should knock first—unless there is an emergency. If there is an emergency such as broken water pipes or smoke detectors activated, then the landlord has the right to enter immediately without prior notice.
If the lease states that the landlord may enter without notice during reasonable hours, the tenant may have no right to require advance notice. However, if the landlord or the landlord’s employees repeatedly enter without notice, send the landlord a letter requesting a minimum of 24 hours advance notice prior to entry in a non-emergency situation. Keep a copy of the letter and send the original by certified mail, “return receipt requested”. Although the landlord is not obligated to comply with your request for the advance notice, common courtesy would encourage the landlord to give the tenant notice prior to entering the rental unit. If the landlord does not adhere to the general standards as outlined above and repeatedly enters the rental unit without notice, the landlord may be cited for trespassing. Call the local police department for more information.