How can a landlord protect himself against the bad apples

13 Replies

Hi guys.  I'm close to having my condo ready for renting.  I have to go year by year by the by-laws.  I'm putting in a lot of effort into making this property respectable.  My question is, how far can I go in the lease agreement with a tenant regarding damages.  What I mean is this, what's the standard way a landlord protects himself against someone just trashing the place, scratching the walls, breaking the applies, the worst case scenario?  Can I put in dollar amounts like if you do A, then you'll be charged X dollars, etc.  Or is the answer just depend on your landlord insurance.  Also. can I put in a clause that says if they do X, they will be evicted.  I live in PA.  I'm pretty sure these things are under the state's jurisdiction, but not sure, please comment if you know about this as well.  I'm just trying to protect myself against disaster, and I know without the right paperwork, the finish will be like always, me in debt and the tenant making his dinner toast to how inexperienced I was.

Yes, basically your lease must reflect the landlord/tenant laws of that area. If there is a max on security deposit, you can't charge more than that. Same for late fees.

To protect yourself from a tenant trashing the place, the best thing to do is a proper screening when someone applies. It does sound like you might be worrying a bit too much though. 

Just know the laws and find a good person to rent your home! It will be fine!

@Alexander Morgovsky

I copied the following from a site. It may be helpful to you to learn about PA landlording laws. 

This article summarizes some key Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Laws applicable to residential rental units.

The Official State Statutes and other reputable municipal sources were used to research this information. All sources are cited appropriately.

With that said, landlord-tenant laws are always changing and you have a responsibility to perform your own research when applying the laws to your unique situation.

If you have a legal question or concern, I only recommend contacting a licensed attorney-referral service that is operated by the state bar association.

This article is current as of April 4, 2014.

Official Rules, Regulations & Guides

68 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 250.101 – 250.602 – Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 (pdf)

Act of Jul. 5, 2012, P.L. 1091, No. 129 – Amendment to Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951

Title 68 – Real and Personal Property

Tenant’s Rights – University of Pittsburgh

Security Deposit:

Security Deposit Maximum: 2 month’s rent during the first year of renting, 1 month’s rent during any subsequent years. (68 P.S. §§ 250.511a)

Deadline for Returning Security Deposit: 30 days of termination of a lease or upon surrender and acceptance of the premises, whichever first occurs. (68 P.S. §§ 250.512)

Security Deposit Interest: The tenant is entitled to interest after the second anniversary of giving a deposit. The landlord shall be entitled to receive as administrative expenses, a sum equivalent to one per cent per annum upon the security money so deposited, paid to the tenant annually upon the anniversary date (3rd year) of the commencement of his lease. (68 P.S. §§ 250.511b(b))

Separate Security Deposit Bank Account: Required (68 P.S. §§ 250.511b)

oFunds held for more than 2 years and funds over $100 must be deposited in an escrow account federally or state-regulated institution.

oThe landlord must notify the tenants in writing the name and address of the banking institution in which such deposits are held, and the amount of such deposits.

Nonrefundable Fees: No Statute

Application Fees: No Statute. Use Cozy to avoid having to charge application fees.

Non-refundable or Additional Fees: No Statute

Itemized List of Move-Out Damages and Charges: Within 30 days, landlord shall provide a tenant with a written list of any damages to for which the landlord claims the tenant is liable, along with a refund of all remaining deposit funds. (68 P.S. §§ 250.512)

Record Keeping of Deposit Withholdings: No Statute

Failure to Comply:

oAny landlord who fails to provide a written list within thirty days, the landlord shall forfeit all rights to withhold any portion of the deposit, including any unpaid interest thereon, or to bring suit against the tenant for damages to the leasehold premises. (68 P.S. §§ 250.512(b))

oIf the landlord fails to return the remaining deposit, after withholdings, within 30 days, the landlord may be liable for double the deposit amount plus interest. (68 P.S. §§ 250.512(c))

Lease, Rent & Fees:

When Rent Is Due: No Statute

Rent Increase Notice: No Statute

Rent Grace Period: No Statute

Late Fees: No Statute

Prepaid Rent: No Statute

Returned Check Fees: Allowed, but it shall not exceed $50 unless the landlord is charged fees in excess of $50 by financial institutions, upon which the landlord can charge the actual amount of the fees. I recommend using Cozy to collect rent online to reduce late payments.

Tenant Allowed to Withhold Rent for Failure to Provide Essential Services (Water, Heat, etc.): Yes, when an government agency or department certifies that a dwelling is uninhabitable, the tenant can elect to deposit rent into an escrow account rather than pay the landlord directly. (68 P.S. §§ 250.206)

Tenant Allowed to Repair and Deduct Rent: No Statute

Landlord Allowed to Recover Court and Attorney Fees: No Statute

Landlord Must Make a Reasonable Attempt to Mitigate Damages Caused by Leasee: No Statute

Abandonment of Personal Property: (Act of Jul. 5, 2012, P.L. 1091, No. 129)

oThe landlord must send a notice to the tenant stating that personal property has been left behind with contact information for the landlord. The tenant then has ten days from the date of postmark of the notice to contact the landlord.

oIf the tenant does contact with landlord within the ten day period, the landlord must allow the tenant a total of thirty days (the first ten plus twenty more) to get the items. After the first ten days, the landlord may move the items to another location and charge the tenant for storage.

oIf the tenant does not contact the landlord within ten days, the landlord may dispose of the items and have no further responsibility for them.

oThe law applies when either (1) the landlord has received a judgment in an eviction case and has executed an order for possession, or (2) the tenant has given written notice that he has left the home.

Notices & Entry:

Notice to Terminate Tenancy – A year or less or for an indeterminate time: 15 days (68 P.S. §§ 250.501(b))

Notice to Terminate Tenancy – More than a year: 30 days (68 P.S. §§ 250.501(b))

Notice to Terminate Tenancy – Month-to-Month Lease: 15 days (68 P.S. §§ 250.501(b))

Notice of Date/Time of Move-Out Inspection: No Statute

Notice of Termination of a Lease for Nonpayment: 10 Days (68 P.S. §§ 250.501(b))

Termination for Lease Violation: No Statute

Required Notice before Entry: No exact amount of time is specified but generally 24 hours is recommended.

Entry Allowed with Notice for Maintenance and Repairs (nonemergency): No Statute

Entry Allowed with Notice for Showings: No Statute

Emergency Entry Allowed without Notice: No Statute

Entry Allowed During Tenant’s Extended Absence: No Statute

Notice to Tenants for Pesticide Use: No Statute

Lockouts Allowed: No Statute, but no state allows this.

Utility Shut-offs Allowed: No Statute, but no state allows this.

Disclosures & Miscellaneous Notes:

Lead Disclosure: Landlords must disclose all known lead paint hazards. Landlords must also provide tenants, as an attachment to a written lease, with an information pamphlet (pdf) on lead-based paint hazards.

Domestic Violence Situations: No Statute

Retaliation: A landlord must not terminate, refuse to renew a lease, or fine a tenant for being involved in a tenant’s organization. (68 P.S. §§ 250.205)

Court & Legal Related:

Pennsylvania Small Claims Court Limits: $12,000, except for Philadelphia which has no dollar limit for Landlord-Tenant cases (42 P.S. §§ 1123 and §§ 1123)

Eviction Cases Allowed in Small Claims: Yes

The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania Attorney General

Small Claims:

oPennsylvania Small Claims Manual (pdf)

oPennsylvania County Courts

oPhiladelphia Municipal Court Civil Division

Bar Associations

oPennsylvania State Bar Association

oPhiladelphia Bar Association

Legal Aid

oPennsylvania Lawyer Referral Service

oFind a Legal Aid Provider

oPhiladelphia Lawyer Referral Service

oPhiladelphia Legal Assistance

oCommunity Legal Services of Philadelphia

Business Licenses:

Business License Required: No state-wide statute, but local cities and counties may have regulations and requirements. Check with your local governing authority.

Philadelphia Housing Rental License

Pittsburgh Bureau of Building Inspection

Helpful Links

Lead Paint Booklet (pdf)

Lead Paint Disclosure Rule

Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission

Pennsylvania Insurance Department

Pennsylvania Guide to Home Owners Insurance (pdf)

Pennsylvania Bureau of Consumer Protection

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development – Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania State Real Estate Commission

Pennsylvania Association of REALTORS®

Map of Local Associations of REALTORS®

The Pennsylvania Association of Housing & Redevelopment Agencies

oAllegheny County Housing Authority

oBethlehem Housing Authority

oHousing Authority of the County of Butler

oHousing Authority of the County of Chester

oHousing Authority of Cumberland County

oHousing Authority of the City of Erie

oHousing Authority of the City of Franklin

oLackawanna County Housing Authority

oLancaster City Housing Authority

oLawrence County Housing Authority

oLebanon County Housing Authority 

oMercer County Housing Authority 

oMontgomery County Housing Authority

oHousing Authority of Northumberland County

oPhiladelphia Housing Authority

oHousing Authority City of Pittsburgh

oHousing Authority of The City of Pottsville

oUnion County Housing Authority

oWashington County Housing Authority

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Laws & Regulation

Thanks Nicole.

Thanks Robert, wow, that's a lot of info.  I'm going to read through it to get a better feel for it.  Regarding going to an attorney, in your experience, is it better to go to a brick and mortar place or use one of those online places like legalzoom?  I like online because it makes the interaction easier, but in this realm, I just never did it before.

@Alexander Morgovsky

I would not worry about using an online legal firm for "boiler plate" business structure setups but for issues, I would think a local is better,

Use BP's tenant screening checklist, you'll be fine.

@Alexander Morgovsky , the absolute best thing you can do is screen your tenants so you are getting high quality people who will take care of your property.

If you want them to know something, tell them. If you want to be able to prove you told them, write it down and have them sign it.

Your tenants cannot read your mind, so share with them exactly how you expect them to take care of your property. A way to keep an eye on the property is to perform routine maintenance like changing the filter in the furnace (which a tenant will almost never do on their own) and changing the batteries in the smoke detector. 

When you're screening your tenants, do a thorough background check, including criminal and credit history. This will tell you a lot. Call all past landlords and ask questions specific to the property like what is the address?

ANY eviction history is an automatic no. There had been a lot written about tenant screening in the blog and these forums. Read it all, devise a minimum requirements list, and then stick to it. 

Doing all this work upfront will lessen the work you have to do after they move in - a quality tenant isn't likely to be evicted or treat your place poorly.

What's not explicitly mentioned with the post from @Robert M. is that Pennsylvania consumer contracts are required to be in "plain language" (no legalese) - and leases are a form of consumer contract and as such must be in plain language. Read what a PA attorney has to say on this:

This state gov't  link might have more on this:

Thanks everyone.  I agree, screening is the best bet.  If I had to choose between someone eager to move in without history or someone else dragging their feet but with good history, I'd rather be patient.  It's one of those things where if you jump on it too soon, you'll have to suffer much more later.  I too was concerned about the boilerplate online services, because every local jurisdiction will have their own gotchas which only a local entity would know.

@Alexander Morgovsky Another way to minimize having a "bad apple" tenant, is to not be a "bad apple" landlord. As landlord, you are the set the tone. Too many landlords treat their tenants terribly and then wonder why they are having difficulties.  You can be firm, business-like and professional while still treating people with dignity and respect.  It works wonders!

Art, that's true.  I just hear so many horror stories, and how hard it is to evict people despite those tenants purposely being vicious for sport to the landlord.  All I know is when I lived in a rental, I caused my landlord no problems whatsoever, but in our "tough luck, sue me" society, it's better to be paranoid sooner than later.  But one thing I realized, everyone on here is right, screen the tenants like you're screening your future spouse, because in effect, you're marrying each other for at least a year, and in some cases, for longer, for better or for worse ;)

Originally posted by @Alexander Morgovsky :

Art, that's true.  I just hear so many horror stories, and how hard it is to evict people despite those tenants purposely being vicious for sport to the landlord.  All I know is when I lived in a rental, I caused my landlord no problems whatsoever, but in our "tough luck, sue me" society, it's better to be paranoid sooner than later.  But one thing I realized, everyone on here is right, screen the tenants like you're screening your future spouse, because in effect, you're marrying each other for at least a year, and in some cases, for longer, for better or for worse ;)

You are right to be cautious, as there are a lot of horrible people out there that will take advantage of how our society has drifted towards the absence of personal responsibility.

 However, all you can do is screen well, trust your instinct, and move forward.  No risk no reward my friend.

For some of the things you mentioned, like trashing the place or purposefully breaking the appliances, there's no need to specifically address that in the lease since that's vandalism and is already against the law.  Just like how you don't have to put "tenant shall not douse the property in gasoline and set it afire" in the lease.  It's already against the law, and the law is going to trump anything you could put in your lease anyway.

For other things, you'll want to have a catch all phrase that holds the tenant responsible for damages beyond "normal wear and tear".  Your local laws may or may not define the useful life of many things in your condo and force you to pro-rate any charges to the tenant.

For example, if you have brand new carpeting when the tenant moves in, but it's ruined by pet stains and has to be replaced when they move out two years later, you will only be able to charge them 5/7ths of the actual cost if your laws dictate that the useful life of carpet is 7 years.

Thanks Dana.  Tyler, good point.  Actually talking about that, since I only have one property right now, the one I'm about to rent out, is it worth starting a business relationship with a lawyer, so that I have someone on standby in case something happens, or do most people go at it on their own until they have a lot more properties.  I know those retainer fees are serious, and with on only 1 condo, it feels like overkill, but then again, I guess it all depends on what will happen with that 1 condo.

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