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Pennsylvania Landlord Tenant Law


I. The Tenant - Finding a Home


The first problem which every tenant faces is finding a good and adequate home. Before beginning the search, the tenant should decide what is needed, for example: the number of rooms, location or distance from public transportation and how much the tenant can afford to pay. By making some decisions first, the renter can avoid being forced into a rental situation which he or she may later regret.

Newspapers are usually the easiest place to find out where private properties are. Renters can get information about rental property from realtors or reliable rental location services. But remember that these services may often cost money. Make sure to find out what the money covers and what services will be provided before you agree to the service.

For families, elderly and handicapped who have low incomes, the Harrisburg Housing Authority provides public housing in projects and scattered leased houses in various sections of the city. Questions and applications should be made at Morrison Towers, 351 Chestnut Street, Harrisburg, telephone 232-6781. Similarly, the Dauphin County Housing Authority also provides low-income housing outside the city of Harrisburg. Questions and applications should be made at Latsha Towers, 501 Mohn Street, Steelton, telephone 939-9301. Other forms of rental assistance are available for persons with slightly higher incomes in government subsidized rental housing.

Other subsidized housing complexes that provide rental assistance:


Presbyterian Apartments
Age 50 and Older, Handicapped

Linden Terrace
Elderly and Handicapped

Pheasant Hill Estates

B'Nai Brith Apartments

Hummelstown Manor

Middletown Interfaith Apts.

Edison Village
Family, Elderly and Handicapped

East Bridge Apartments
Family and Elderly

Maclay Street Apartments
Family, Elderly and Handicapped

Rutherford Park
Elderly and Family

Harrisburg Park Apartments

Cumberland Court Apartments
Family, Elderly and Handicapped

Parkside Apartments
Family and Elderly


One West Penn
Elderly and Handicapped

Meadowbrook Apartments
Elderly and Handicapped

Susquehanna View Apts.
Camp Hill

Bethany Towers
Elderly and Disabled

Orchard Apartments
Family and Handicapped
Camp Hill


Public housing is housing owned and run by a government body such as a local housing authority. To be eligible to live in this housing, a tenant must have low income and meet certain other requirements Rent in public housing can be no more than 30 percent of the tenant's income.

In Harrisburg the landlord in public housing with projects or leased housing is the Harrisburg Housing Authority, 351 Chestnut Street, Harrisburg, PA 17102, 232-6781.


The Federal Fair Housing Laws of 1968 and 1988 or Title VIII states that it is the policy of the United States to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the nation. Title VIII protects you against the following acts if they are based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap/disability and familial status.

  • Refusal to sell or rent to, deal or negotiate with, or give truthful information to any person.

  • Discrimination in the terms, conditions, privileges, provisions of service or facilities in sale or rental or dwelling or property.

  • Denial of a loan or creation of different terms or conditions for home loans by commercial lenders.

  • iscriminate, by advertising that housing is available only to persons of a certain race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

  • "Blockbusting" for profit such as persuading owners to sell or rent housing by telling them that minority groups are moving into the neighborhood.

  • Denial to anyone of the use or participation In, any real estate services, such as brokers' organizations, multiple listing services, or other facilities related to the selling or rent of housing.

The Harrisburg Human Relations Ordinance reiterates Title VIII and also prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of ancestry, place of birth, age, handicap/disability, marital status, and sexual preference/orientation and familial status. This Ordinance makes it unlawful for owners to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing and for lending institutions to discriminate in lending, guaranteeing loans or accepting mortgages.

The Ordinance affects any building, structure or portion thereof which is used or occupied or is intended, arranged or designed to be used or occupied, as the home residence or sleeping place by a person, family or by a group of persons living together In the City of Harrisburg.

The Ordinance exempts a building or structure containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than two Individuals, two groups or two families living independently of each other and used by the other thereof as a bona fide residence for himself and any member of his family forming his household.

The Ordinance makes it illegal for owners to exclude broad categories of tenants and mortgage applicants based on any of the prohibited factors. Owners will have to look at each individual's ability to rent or buy property, and each individual's credit worthiness. If a person believes he or she has been discriminated against they can file a complaint with the Harrisburg Human Relations Commission, 123 Walnut Street, 255-3037. Those acts occurring outside the City of Harrisburg should be reported to the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, 787-9781.


Once a possible home has been found, it is the tenant's duty to check it out completely. A tenant should not rely on the landlord or the landlord's agent to tell the tenant if anything is wrong with the property The tenant must inspect the property carefully and ask questions about it.

Before agreeing to rent, the tenant should inspect the apartment or house for:

  1. Kitchen appliances in working order.
  2. Water pressure strong, plumbing without leaks.
  3. Electrical outlets and wiring working.
  4. Walls and ceiling painted or papered without cracks
  5. Ventilation or air conditioning accessible.
  6. Floors, railings and bathrooms in good repair.
  7. Fire escape easy to use.
  8. Stairs safe and well-lighted.
  9. No rodents or insects.
  10. Heating system in working order.
  11. If furnished, check and write down condition of all furniture.
  12. Windows and doors operable and weather-tight; screens provided.

The tenant should also check the security of the building to find out if there is a dead-bolt lock, security chain, or through-the-door viewer. SEE CHECKLIST.

A tenant may want to check with the Bureau of Codes Enforcement at City Hall (255-6552) to find out if the property has been recently inspected. The Bureau will be able to tell you if the City has found some problems with the property that are violations of the current housing code. They will also tell you if the former tenants have complained about the landlord's failure to repair the property. (SEE INFORMATION ABOUT THE HOUSING CODE).

BEWARE OF EXISTING DAMAGES: In order to avoid being blamed for damages that already exist in the rental unit, the cautious tenant should take every step for self-protection. Before moving in (or as soon as possible thereafter), the tenant should make a list of all existing damages and repairs that need to be made. A copy of the list should he presented to the landlord and attached to the lease This way the landlord cannot blame the tenant for damages caused by others and the tenant will know what the landlord intends to repair. If the tenant keeps good records. the landlord will not be able to keep the tenant s security deposit for damages that were actually caused by others Photographs are strongly recommended.


Before agreeing to rent, the tenant should ask the following questions:

  1. Who is the landlord? Who is the agent (if the landlord has one)?
  2. How much is the rent?
  3. When is the rent due?
  4. To whom and where should the rent be paid?
  5. Is a security deposit required?
  6. To whom should problems and repairs be referred?
  7. Will there be an oral or written lease?
  8. Will the tenant be renting for a month-to-month or a year-to-year term?
  9. Who has the responsibility to pay for the utilities (electric, water gas. oil)?
  10. What are the rules and regulations about such things as pets and children?


The lease is the agreement between the landlord and the tenant for renting a property. The lease can be oral (spoken) or in writing. If the tenant does not have a written lease, he/she has an oral lease. In either situation, the lease should at least tell: 1 ) who is the tenant and who is the landlord; 2) the location being rented; 3) the amount of rent due; 4) the length of time that the property is being rented (month-to-month or year-to-year): and 5) who pays the utilities. The tenant must make sure that all blanks are filled in or crossed out of the lease and that all changes are made before signing.

The lease sets forth the obligation which the tenant owes to the landlord and the obligation which the landlord owes to the tenant. NEVER SIGN ANY LEASE BEFORE READING IT CAREFULLY. If the tenant has a written lease, every agreement between the tenant and the landlord must be put in the lease including any promises by the landlord to make repairs. Ask for and get a copy of the lease.


The form of lease on the preceding page is typical of leases used in this area. Because it is written in technical legal language, some parts are very difficult to understand. Several Sections are probably not able to be enforced by the landlord. They are explained below. If the tenant does not understand any part of the lease, the tenant should ask the landlord to explain it. The tenant may also want to discuss it with a lawyer before signing. This sample is not very fair to the tenant. Some other forms are better for the tenant, while some are worse. Not all forms have the same clauses as this sample lease.

Numbers are given to each section of the lease. The explanations for each section correspond to the numbers.

Section 1. Identifies the parties to the agreement. The landlord is called the party of the first part and the tenant is called the party of the second part.

Section 2. Identities the property which is being rented, usually by address and/or apartment number.

Section 3. States what the term of the lease is, which means how long the tenant is obligated to rent. The lease will usually be month-to-month or year-to-year. A tenant may have a one-year lease in which the rent is paid monthly. In this case, the term is one year.

Section 4. Sets out the amount of rent which must be paid. It should explain when the rent should be paid and to whom. Sometimes the landlord will provide a penalty charge if the rent is not paid on time.

Section 5. Introduces the landlord's rights and the tenant duties, which are the conditions of the lease which must be kept by the tenant.

Section 6. Explains that the tenant must keep the property in the same condition as when it was rented. The tenant is only responsible for damages that he or she caused to the property but not for damages from natural wear or if the damages were caused by fire or storm other disasters not the fault of the tenant.

Section 7a. Directs the tenant to keep the place clean.

Section 7b. Places the responsibility for trash and garbage removal on the tenant. If the tenant does not remove the trash, the landlord may remove it and charge the tenant twice as much as the actual cost to remove it.

Section 7c. Places the cost of utilities (water and electricity) on the tenant, unless it is specifically provided otherwise, in writing, at the end of the lease.

Section 7d. Includes a "hidden clause" in which the tenant frees the landlord from any responsibility for damages caused to any persons or to any property of the tenant in the rented premises. This type of "exculpatory" clause has been criticized by the courts and is probably unenforceable. If you are injured due to the landlord's negligence, you may be able to sue and win. See a lawyer.

Section 8a. Provides that the tenant cannot do anything in the rented property which would cause a hazard or which would be contrary to what the landlord's insurance policy permits. Ask the landlord what the policy permits.

Section 8b. Prohibits the tenant from renting the property or any part of it to anyone else

Section 8c. States that the tenant may not move out of the property during the term of the lease without the written agreement of the landlord. This is probably not enforceable, especially now that the law permits the tenant to break the lease if the landlord refuses to make necessary repairs. There are no penalties.

Section 8d. Prohibits the tenant from carrying on any unlawful acts or business, or any acts which cause a nuisance, in the property.

Section 9. Permits the landlord to enter the property at reasonable times to inspect, to make repairs, or to show it to others for renting or buying. The landlord does not have to inform the tenant before entering, but the landlord cannot use this clause to harass the tenant The landlord can put up "for rent" or "for sale" signs.

Section 10. Provides that if the tenant removes any of his or her own goods from the property without the written consent of the landlord, those goods will be available for "distraint" for thirty (30) days after removal. "Distraint" is a remedy used by the landlord to get back rent which the tenant owes. The landlord would "distraint", or take, the property of the tenant and sell it. The courts have found the distraint procedure to be unconstitutional and the landlord is not allowed to take the tenant's property. If the landlord tries to do this, a tenant should see an attorney immediately. Property can only be taken after proper legal process and it is then taken by a law officer, not by the landlord.

Section 11a. States that if the tenant fails to pay the rent or breaks any condition of the lease, the landlord can ask to be paid all the rent due for the whole term and can cancel the remainder of the lease.

Section 11b. Provides that the landlord can then enter the property and repossess it without giving notice and without proceeding through process of law. This section violates the Landlord Tenant Law, which provides that the only proper way to evict a tenant is by the legal process set out on page 23 of this booklet.

Section 12. Provides that the landlord can sue to evict the tenant for paying rent late, even if the landlord accepted rent late in the past. The landlord can also sue for the rent due. Even if the landlord permitted the tenant to break some provisions of the lease in the past, the landlord can later require strict compliance and can evict if the tenant does not obey the lease.

Section 13. Provides that if the tenant files for bankruptcy or becomes bankrupt, the landlord can require that the rent for the full term of the lease be listed as a debt on the bankruptcy petition.

Section 14. Sets out a "confession of judgement" provision for rent. This clause allows the landlord to enter a judgement for rent against the tenant without a hearing. If the tenant has a valid defense to the landlord's suit, the tenant cannot present that defense This procedure may be unenforceable. A tenant should see an attorney if he/she receives a notice that judgement has been entered against him/her.

Section 15. Provides that the landlord does not have to give the tenant notice before evicting or before the end of the term. This section, which may not be enforceable, also attempts to have the tenant give up exemption, bankruptcy, appraisement and other rights.

Section 16. Sets out a "confession of judgement" provision to evict. This clause allows the landlord to enter a judgement for possession against the tenant without a hearing. If the tenant has a valid defense of the landlord's suit, the tenant cannot state his/her side of the case. This procedure may not be enforceable. A tenant should see an attorney if he/she receives notice that a judgement has been entered against him/her.

Section 17a. Provides that all agreements must be in writing. This means that any oral agreements between the landlord and tenant are not enforceable.

Section 17b. Automatically renews the lease, with the same provisions in effect, if the tenant stays in the premises past the term stated in Section 3.

Section 18. Must set out any additional agreement or changes in the lease. Unless agreements between the landlord and tenant are in writing, they cannot be enforced.

Section 19. Binds the landlord and tenant to the lease by their signatures. The tenant should not sign the lease until he/she has read it carefully and understands it fully.

Any changes in or additions to the lease form should be made in writing to both the landlord's and the tenant's copies of the lease. The tenant must make sure all blanks are filled in on the lease and all changes are made before signing.


Any lease, written or oral may be changed or modified if both landlord and tenant agree on the change, it can take effect whenever they wish if the tenant does not agree to any change, the landlord or the tenant may wish to terminate (end) the lease, (see below). and the tenant may have to move out. In any event, any change in the lease must be made according to certain rules.

Sometimes written leases contain a section or a clause explaining how changes in the lease are to be made. Such a clause may state that any changes must be in writing and signed by both the landlord and the tenant. In year-to-year leases, there is often a clause that states changes can be made after giving one month's notice. The lease should be read carefully to see if it contains any clause that states how your lease may be changed or modified.

To change an oral lease or a written lease which does not say how changes are to be made, notice of a change must be given in writing, telling what change is desired and when it will take effect Any change in the lease should only take place at the beginning of a "new term." This means that, in an oral month-to-month lease, the landlord must give the tenant the notice at least one full rental period (in this case, one month) before the change is to take place.

Example: The landlord wants to raise the rent in an apartment rented under an oral lease where the rent is to be paid on the first of each month. The landlord gives the tenant a written notice of the raise in the rent on January 20. The change cannot take effect until March 1.


The tenant has the right to invite into his/her dwelling unit business visitors and deliverymen. The tenant also can invite, for a reasonable period of time, social guests, family or visitors. The tenant shall not permit any person to willfully damage or destroy or remove any part of the dwelling unit nor disturb the peace.

The landlord is permitted to enter the premises at reasonable times (normally daylight hours) for the purpose of inspection or to make repairs and should first notify the tenant.

The landlord is permitted to make rules and regulations after the lease goes into effect; however, these rules and regulations may deal only with the health of the tenants and the safety of the premises.

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