What To Do When A Tenant Withholds Rent

Is a tenant permitted to withhold rent in Pennsylvania if there are problems with the rental property?  In some cases, a tenant can withhold rent, but proper procedure must be followed. In most cases, tenants do not follow the proper procedure in withholding rent and are in breach of the Lease Agreement by withholding rent.

A typical scenario occurs when a tenant has a complaint about a certain problem existing on the property such as mold, lack of heat, water leaks, insect or rodent infestation, or code violations. The tenant has a duty to inform the landlord of the problem and give the landlord a reasonable period of time to fix the problem. In the event the landlord is not diligent in fixing the problem within a reasonable period of time, the tenant is able to exercise their remedies under law.

The tenant generally has three remedies when a landlord fails to make necessary repairs: (1) in the event of a serious breach rendering the property unfit for habitability, the tenant can declare the landlord in breach of the Lease Agreement, end the Lease Agreement, and vacate the premises; (2) the tenant can repair the issue themselves, notify the landlord of the same, provide the landlord with the cost of repairs, and deduct the costs from their rent; or (3) place ongoing rent into an escrow account, notify the landlord of the same, and release the rent from escrow once the landlord makes repairs.

The tenant is prohibited from withholding rent unless ongoing rent is placed into an escrow account. In the event rent is withheld without placing rent into an escrow account, the landlord can file eviction proceedings against the tenant. Please also be advised to consult an attorney before exercising remedies as each case must be evaluated based on their own facts and circumstances. A landlord is not required to provide a tenant with an absolutely perfect property. A landlord is only required to provide the tenant with a property that is safe and habitable. Remedies should only be exercised in the event of a serious breach rendering the property uninhabitable. In the event a remedy is exercised improperly, a tenant can be held responsible for unpaid rent, late fees, court costs, and attorney’s fees.

If you have a tenant that is withholding rent from you, please contact me to discuss your case. I am a landlord-tenant attorney located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, assisting clients in the Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton area. Feel free to call me at (610) 417-6345.

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