The following frequently asked questions may be most helpful for landlords looking for information about security deposits, lease renewals and expirations.
How much can a landlord charge in a security deposit?
A landlord can charge up to two months’ rent during the first year of a tenancy.
During the second and third years of tenancy, a landlord can only charge one month’s rent.
After five years or more of being a tenant, the security deposit cannot increase, even if the rent increases. (Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act, Section 511.1)
What must a landlord do with security deposit funds held?
Security deposits of $100 or more must be deposited by the landlord in an approved bank, and the tenant must be notified in writing where the bank and deposit is located.
Beginning with the third year of a lease, the landlord must put security deposits over $100 in an interest-bearing bank account. At the end of the third year, the landlord must start giving the tenant the yearly interest received from the bank, less a 1% fee that the landlord may keep.
A landlord may put up a bond instead of depositing security deposits in an escrow account. This bond is intended to guarantee that the tenant will get back the deposit with interest at the end of the tenancy. (Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act, Section 511.2).
Can a landlord screen potential tenants before offering them a lease?
Yes, but only if they conduct an “individualized assessment of the applicant based on uniform screening criteria.” In general, this means a landlord cannot have a “blanket” rule against renting to tenants who have an eviction record or whose credit rating falls below a specific number. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-810(2)-(3)).
There are several things a landlord cannot legally screen for or base a decision to rent or not on, including:
(1) sealed, vacated, and satisfied eviction records;
(2) eviction attempts in which the tenant prevailed;
(3) eviction records from more than four years before the rental application; and
(4) credit and consumer reports showing failures to pay bills during COVID-19 emergency periods.
If a landlord wants to screen their tenants using uniform criteria, the landlord must post their uniform criteria clearly enough that all possible applicants can see it, such as on a website, in a public posting place, or on the premises. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-1108(3)).
If a landlord uses tenant screening services or other consumer reports when they decide whether to rent to an applicant, the landlord must include copies of those reports when they give the tenant the plain written statement that explains why they were not accepted. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-1108(3)).
When is my tenant allowed to move out before the lease expires?
They can ask to be let out early and you can do so anytime. Both sides should do all this in writing (email is sufficient).
If the lease is for one year or more and you raise the tenant’s rent on the renewed lease, the tenant has 30 days to tell you in writing that they will not renew the lease. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-804(11)(b)).
When and how can a landlord decline to renew a lease?
For leases less than one year, such as a month-to-month lease, landlords must give tenants 30 days written notice stating a Good Cause reason to end a lease. Good Cause reasons can include habitual non-payment or late payment of rent, breach of an important term of the lease, nuisance and property damage, or several other factors. (Philadelphia Code 9-804(12)).
For leases of one year or more, landlords must give at least 10 days written notice and are not required to state a Good Cause reason to end a lease. If a landlord has good cause, they must notify tenants in writing the same way they must notify them of a rent increase. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-804(12(c)).
As a last resort, can a landlord take matters into their own hands, such as by shutting off water or heat or changing the locks?
No. This is a “self-help” eviction practice, which is an action by a landlord that attempts to interfere with a tenant’s use of a property without going through the proper legal channels. These practices are against Philadelphia law.
The legal eviction process, including eviction diversion, is the only way to legally remove tenants from a home. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-1600).
Required forms and disclosures
Landlords have to disclose the following to tenants:
(1) Certificate of Rental Suitability: Every licensed landlord must give every tenant a Certificate of Rental Suitability. The certificate says all fire protection and smoke detection equipment for the premises are present and in proper operating condition. It also acknowledges that the landlord must provide a “fit and habitable” property. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-3903).
(2) Lead Paint Disclosure: Federal law requires every landlord to tell their tenants anything they know about lead-based paint and hazards. (United States Code, 42 U.S.C, Section 4852(d)). However, this disclosure does not have to be in the lease agreement.
(3) Lead Warning Statement: Philadelphia code requires lead warning statements in lease agreements for residential housing. (See Philadelphia Code, Health Code Section 6-805(2) for the exact language required for these statements).
(4) Smoking Policy for multi-family buildings: If the dwelling has more than one unit, the landlord must tell potential tenants in writing whether they can smoke in the unit or in the building. (Philadelphia Code, Section 9-805)
(5) Partners in Fair Housing Booklet: Landlords have to give this booklet to their tenants; the Department of Licenses and Inspections maintains the document. Download it here.
(6) Bed Bug Control: Landlords have to give their tenants: 1) an information sheet about bedbug safety. Find that here. 2) a description of any bed bugs reported in the past 120 days.
If someone files a complaint about bed bugs, the landlord must hire a pest control professional and continue treatment until there are no more bed bugs. After that, the landlord must monitor the building for bed bugs for one year and check adjacent units if the building has 4 or more units.