In Pennsylvania, “The Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951” (“The Act”) governs all residential leases entered in Pennsylvania. The Act provides certain terms in the relationship between a landlord and tenant that cannot be waived by the tenant, even where the written lease has provisions contrary to the Act.
A common issue that arises between landlords and tenants in residential leases governed by the Act is the handling of the tenant’s security deposit at the conclusion of the lease. Residential landlords should be wary of the Act’s remedies for improperly withheld security deposit monies. The Act requires a landlord under a residential lease to provide the now former tenant with a written list of the damages to the premises that the landlord claims are the tenant’s responsibility within 30 days of the termination of the lease.
The list of damages must be accompanied by payment of the difference between the amount claimed for the damages and the amount of the security deposit with interest. If a landlord fails to provide the written list of damages and repayment of security deposit amounts in excess the amount of damages claimed within the 30 day window, they will be deemed to forfeit the rights to withhold any portion of the security deposit or to sue the tenant for damages to the premises. If the landlord fails to pay the amount of the security deposit for which no claim is made within 30 days of the termination of the lease, the landlord can be held civilly liable for double the amount of the security deposit wrongfully withheld. A tenant’s claim for double the security deposit can be mitigated if the landlord can prove the amount of actual damages done to the premises to the satisfaction of the Court. This procedure may be employed by a tenant regardless of the terms of the written lease agreement or other writing between the landlord and the tenant.