“Tenant and Landlords Rights and Responsibilities - Understanding Your Lease”

August 29, 2011

Finding a new place to live is an exciting but sometimes frustrating experience. Inevitably, many people find themselves trying to read a lease that they may not understand. Knowing the rights and responsibilities of both the tenant and the landlord may help to alleviate some of the confusion.

  • Read your lease carefully and in its entirety. Generally a lease will include:
  • Amount of rent due and the date it is to be paid
  • Penalties for late payment
  • Amount of security deposit and the conditions under which it will/will not be returned
  • Who is responsible for certain repairs
  • Terms and conditions for terminating the lease
  • Any notice requirements for terminating the lease and the penalties for non-compliance with the termination process
  • Generally, unless the lease states otherwise, the landlord is responsible for repairs that are necessary from normal wear and tear and for major repairs. If your furnace needs to be repaired, it is the landlord’s responsibility. While the landlord does have a duty to respond and make the repair (this is considered a major repair), you do have to give him/her a reasonable time to do so. "Reasonable" can be anywhere from a day to a couple of weeks, depending on the circumstances. If the furnace goes prior to the cold weather, the urgency is not as great as during colder months. Remember that there are ALWAYS exceptions. Also keep in mind that just because you know someone who you think can respond faster, that does not mean that the landlord is required to use that person.
  • When terminating a lease, always check the terms of your lease relating to termination. Usually a lease will not only set out the terms of the lease and its duration, it will also set out how much notice is to be given when terminating. If the lease does not say anything about the notice required, a tenant is not required to give any notice to the landlord when moving out as long as it is done when the lease ends. If the lease says nothing and the tenant wants to move out before the end of the lease, under the law at least 30 days notice is required. Also, the tenant should notify the landlord as soon as possible so that the landlord may try to rent the property. Keep in mind that once a lease is signed, if you move out before the end of the lease, the landlord can hold you to the full term of the lease. That is a good reason to give plenty of notice so the landlord has plenty of time to try and find a new tenant.
  • To get a security deposit returned, the tenant must give the landlord, or his/her agent, a forwarding address in writing at or before the time the tenant actually moves out. The landlord then has 30 days from the date the tenant moves out (1) to return the security deposit or (2) send the tenant a list of damages the tenant caused in the apartment, the cost of the repairs, plus any extra money left over from the security deposit. If the landlord does not return the security deposit or does not provide the written list of damages within 30 days, the tenant can sue the landlord for double the security deposit by going to a magistrate's office and filing a complaint against the landlord.
  • There are three reasons a landlord can evict a tenant:

    1. The term of the lease has ended
    2. The tenant is behind in the rent
    3. The tenant has breached some clause in the lease

  • A landlord cannot just change the locks. There is a specific procedure that must be followed. The landlord must:
  • Give the tenant an eviction notice (by either handing it to the tenant or posting it on the property) which states the reason for the eviction and the date the tenant is being asked to leave. Usually a lease will state the time to be given for an eviction notice. If the lease says nothing however, and the lease is for one year or less, the tenant must be given 30 days notice.
  • File a landlord-tenant complaint with the local magistrate. The tenant will receive a copy of this complaint both in the mail and by either being personally served or having the complaint posted on the property.
  • Attend a hearing where both the landlord and the tenant will present testimony and request the court to find in one side’s favor. IF THE TENANT DOES NOT ATTEND THIS HEARING THE LANDLORD WINS BY DEFAULT.
  • Request an Order of Possession if the landlord wins at the magistrate hearing. No sooner than 15 days after winning at the magistrate hearing, the landlord can have the constable give the tenant an "Order for Possession." This is a notice telling the tenant that unless the tenant is out of the property by a certain date (no sooner than 15 days after the date the tenant receives the notice) the Constable can forcibly remove the tenant and his/ her personal belongings from the rental property. This gives the tenant at least 30 days to vacate after losing at the magistrate hearing.

If you need a referral to an attorney practicing in the area of landlord-tenant, collections, or consumer law, contact the Allegheny County Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service at 412-261-5555.