Understanding the Security Deposit in Pennsylvania

Whether you’re a landlord or tenant, security deposit issues often arise when the residential arrangement comes to an end. If there is an issue, it usually goes as follows: the landlord is claiming deductions from the deposit while the tenant believes he or she is entitled to full reimbursement.

The purpose of the security deposit is simple: it covers the landlord should he or she have to make repairs to damages beyond normal wear-and-tear and also protects the landlord if a tenant vacates without paying the last month’s rent. The law is entirely clear that tenants are not responsible for normal wear-and-tear, but not so clear on what exactly the phrase “normal wear-and-tear” entails. Generally, normal wear-and-tear is understood as unavoidable issues not caused by the tenant, such as repainting faded paint or cleaning carpets.

Not surprisingly, the biggest issues concerning security deposits is All about the moneydetermining whether the tenant is entitled to a return of the deposit, and if so, for how much. The Pennsylvania Landlord-Tenant Act of 1951 is the governing piece of legislation when such matters arise. Here are a few of the key provisions:

  1. Tenant’s New Address: If a tenant is leaving the residence, the Landlord Tenant Act requires he or she provide their new address to the landlord in writing. This should be done at or before the time the tenant leaves. If a tenant fails to provide this written notice, he or she can still sue, but the Landlord Tenant Act is likely no longer applicable because the tenant failed to avail himself or herself of its protection.
  2. 30 Day Limit: Not only must the landlord return a tenant’s unused security deposit within 30 days, he or she must provide a written accounting of any deductions from the security deposit for which the landlord deems the tenant responsible. If a landlord fails to do so, they lose the right to retain any portion of the tenant’s security deposit and forfeit the ability to sue the tenant for damages to the premises.
  3. Double-Liability: Should a landlord not provide the written accounting of deductions and make a return of the remaining unused security deposit within 30 days, the tenant can bring a lawsuit seeking double the difference between the security deposit and the amount of damage the tenant actually caused.
  4. These Rights are Absolute: The Landlord-Tenant Act is clear: any attempted waiver of this section by a tenant by contract or otherwise shall be void and unenforceable. Therefore, regardless of any provision which might be read to waive the protections provided to tenants under the Landlord-Tenant Act, if a tenant has provided his or her new address in writing, that tenant is eligible for protection.

If you’re a landlord or tenant facing an issue regarding the return of a security deposit, or a landlord-tenant issue generally, the attorneys at Howland Hess O’Connell are available to assist you in handling your matter.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland, Hess and O’Connell encourages all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.

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