Bugs, mold, no heat: When can tenants withhold rent?

Investigators

CARLISLE, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act lays out the rights and responsibilities of landlords and tenants. The act covers issues like leases, security deposits and tenant screening.

There is also something called the Warranty of Habitability. Based on case law, it says Pennsylvania tenants are legally entitled to a rental that meets basic structural, health, and safety standards.

“It is to ensure that landlords are providing sufficient premises for tenants,” said Dru Miller, an attorney with Martson Law Offices.

If you are dealing with issues like mold, insects, rodents, broken pipes, or heating and cooling systems that aren’t working, there are steps you should take before you decide to withhold rent.

First, you must notify your landlord of the issue.

“There is not a strict requirement under the law that it be in writing, but put it in writing. It can be a text message or email, and save them,” said Miller.

Miller also suggests documenting the problem.

“One of the best things a landlord or tenant can do is take pictures of their situation. This way if it ends up in court it is not a credibility contest,” said Miller.

Once the landlord is notified a tenant must give them reasonable time to fix the issue. The definition of “reasonable time” can vary depending on the urgency of the situation. Miller says no heat in the winter or a broken pipe that is flooding a kitchen could be seen as urgent in the eyes of the court.

“I can’t give you a set time of how long the landlord specifically has to do it, but basically they are not going to drag their feet. If they get the notice the heat is out they are contacting someone, even offering accommodations. It could be something like they offer space heaters while they are waiting for the main heaters to get fixed,” said Miller.

If the landlord does not fix the issue in a reasonable time a tenant can withhold a portion of, or the entire rent. Miller says the amount that can be withheld is based on a percentage formula to determine the tenants’ loss of use or enjoyment of the property.

“I strongly recommend that if a tenant is going to consider withholding the rent to document the situation. Notify the landlord in writing and then you want to put the withheld rent into an escrow account. It is not required by law, but if it should it ever go before a court you are able to show you weren’t withholding rent because you didn’t have it, it was because you wanted the issue repaired,” said Miller.

Miller says it rare that the entire rent can be withheld.

Miller discusses security deposits in the video below:

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