What is “unreasonable noise” as defined by 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 5503(a)(2)?

Disorderly Conduct, 18 Pa. C.S.A § 5503, is an offense that is cited frequently in Pennsylvania because it’s definition is so broad. Pennsylvania statutes define disorderly conduct as conduct that has “intent to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof.”  Disorderly conduct includes fighting, threatening, making unreasonable noise, and using obscene language and gestures. I wanted to provide more specific information for individuals that have been charged with § 5503(a)(2) for causing “unreasonable noise.”

What is unreasonable noise?

Unreasonable noise is to be given its “plain, ordinary meaning” and is defined as “noise which is not fitting or proper in respect to the conventional standards of organized society or a legally constituted community.” In order for the Commonwealth to convict someone of violating 18 Pa. C.S.A. 5503(a)(2), the Commonwealth must prove that the Defendant’s actions intentionally or recklessly caused or created a risk of causing a public inconvenience, annoyance, or alarm.

“The offense of disorderly conduct is not intended as a catchall for every act which annoys or disturbs people and it is not to be used as a dragnet for all the irritations which breed in the ferment of a community. It has a specific purpose; it has a definite object, it is intended to preserve the public peace.” Commonwealth v. Hock, 728 A.2d 943 (Pa. 1999).

Disorderly conduct for unreasonable noise is a specific intent offense.  The Commonwealth must prove that the Defendant intended to cause or created the risk of causing a public inconvenience.  The court will look into factors such as the volume of the noise, whether the the public peace was upset, and the time of day the noise took place.

In Commonwealth v. Maerz, 2005 Pa. Super. 267 (Pa. Super. 2005), the Court decided the issue of whether shouting profanities at a neighbor is considered disorderly conduct. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania vacated the sentence entered by the Court of Common Pleas convicting Defendant of disorderly conduct. In entering the ruling, the Court stated that the Defendant’s language was irrelevant since the prohibition against unreasonable noise is directed at the volume of the speech and not its content.

Furthermore, the Court found that there was no evidence that the Defendant was unreasonably noisy. The Court reasoned that just because the neighbor was annoyed and irritated by the Defendant’s loud outburst alone does not create an inference that the Defendant intended to cause a public inconvenience. Moreover, the court reasoned that the level of noise was not inconsistent with the neighborhood’s tolerance levels and that the public peace was not upset. Based on this reasoning, the Superior Court vacated the Defendant’s conviction.

Charged With Disorderly Conduct?

If you have been charged with disorderly conduct, feel free to call me to discuss your case. I represent clients located in Northampton and Lehigh County and would be happy to discuss your case with you if you are located in the Allentown, Bethlehem, and Easton area. Call me at (610) 417-6345.

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.

What To Do When A Tenant Sues You For Their Security Deposit

In Pennsylvania, a tenant is required to provide the landlord with their forwarding address in writing in order to receive the return of their security deposit.  Once the landlord receives the tenant’s forwarding address, the landlord must then return the unused portion of the tenant’s security deposit with an itemized list of damages within thirty (30) days. A landlord is permitted to use the tenant’s security deposit to cover items related to physical damages, unpaid rent, and unpaid utilities that the tenant is responsible for under the terms of the lease. If an itemized list of damages is not sent to the tenant within thirty (30) days of receipt of the tenant’s forwarding address, the landlord will forfeit the right to withhold any portion of the tenant’s security deposit and the tenant is able to seek double the amount of the security deposit.

What if I sent the tenant a list of damages and the tenant still tries to sue me?

I’ve encountered this problem before where a client contacts me to inform me that they’re being sued by a former tenant after notifying the tenant that their security deposit is not being returned since the landlord’s damages exceed the amount of the security deposit. The tenant then tries to claim that they never received the itemized damages letter and now wants to file a lawsuit seeking double the amount of the security deposit (treble damages) for not complying with Pennsylvania’s Landlord-Tenant Act.

To avoid this problem, the letter containing the itemized list of damages should always be sent via certified mail. Sending the letter via regular mail creates the possibility of the tenant claiming that they never received the itemized list of damages.

Additionally, landlords should be more proactive in initiating legal action against the tenant before the tenant initiates legal action against them. Most landlords feel that it’s either too costly or may be a waste of time to chase around a tenant for additional money after the tenant has already vacated the property. However, not taking steps to recover the full amount of damages sets up a tenant to claim that they never received an itemized list of damages.

What to do if you’re being sued by a tenant for the security deposit.

In the event you’re being sued by a tenant for the security deposit, contact an attorney immediately. A counterclaim should be filed against the tenant for the full amount of the damages. A counterclaim must be filed at least five (5) days prior to the scheduled court hearing. Pa. R.C.P.M.D.J. 315.  The hearing would then be rescheduled between 12-30 days from the filing of the counterclaim.

Begin gathering important documentation about the case. Obtain the Lease Agreement, any correspondence (letters, emails, and text messages) between you and the tenant, the itemized list of damages, before and after photos, estimates, invoices, and receipts.

If you are looking for representation in any landlord-tenant matters, feel free to contact me by calling (610) 417-6345.  I am a landlord-tenant law attorney located in Bethlehem, PA, and primarily represent clients located in Northampton and Lehigh County.

PA UC Eligibility: Quitting to Take Care of Sick Family Member

If you are considering quitting your job in order to provide care for a sick or ill family member, you may be wondering whether you will be eligible to collect unemployment benefits. Under certain circumstances, you may be eligible for UC benefits. However, it is often very difficult to obtain unemployment benefits when you quit your job.

In order to obtain unemployment benefits after quitting in Pennsylvania, a claimant needs to establish that (1) the claimant had necessitous and compelling reasons for quitting their job; and (2) all alternatives were exhausted prior to quitting. Quitting employment to care for a sick family member is often considered cause of a necessitous and compelling nature, but the critical part of the eligibility analysis will come when the Board of Review takes a look at whether or not all alternatives were exhausted prior to quitting.

Factors that the Board of Review will typically look at is what type of notice was provided to the employer, how often the topic was discussed with the employer, whether multiple managers or supervisors were contacted about the issue, whether the matter was discussed with Human Resources, whether the claimant requested FMLA, a temporary leave of absence or a reduced work schedule, the claimant’s spouse’s employment, whether any other family members or friends could have provided care, whether the claimant sought a hired caretaker, the proximity between the claimant and the family member, and the medical condition and type of care the family member required.

Benefits will only be granted to the claimant when there was truly nothing else that could have been done other than for the claimant to quit their employment in order to provide care for a sick or ill family member. If you have been denied benefits after quitting your job to care for a sick family member, please call me at (610) 417-6345 for a consultation.

Unemployment Benefits for Teachers – Explanation of Section 402.1(1)

Pennsylvania unemployment law states that teachers and professors will not be paid unemployment benefits between two successive academic years provided that there’s “reasonable assurance” given that they will perform services in a second academic year. Although this law is very clear for teachers and professors who are full-time employees and simply on a summer break, this can created problems for substitute teachers who perform services for a school on an “as-needed ” basis or in situations where a teachers’ employment status has been downgraded from full-time to part-time.

Section 402.1(1) is the section of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law that applies to teachers not being able to collect unemployment benefits between academic years as long as they are given “reasonable assurance” of returning for the next academic year. A contract of employment will certainly considered “reasonable assurance” of returning work the following academic year. A bona fide offer of employment will also be considered “reasonable assurance.” A bona fide offer is one in which the terms for the second academic year are not substantially less than that of the first academic year.

If you are a teacher whose employment status has changed and have been denied UC benefits under Section 402.1(1), please contact me. You may have received a Notice of Determination denying your unemployment benefits, but you have 15 days to file an appeal to request a UC referee hearing on the denial. If you can establish that the school did not give you “reasonable assurance” of continuing employment or that the school’s offer was not bona fide because, for example, your work schedule or compensation has been dramatically reduced, you could be entitled to unemployment benefits.

I am an unemployment compensation attorney located in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and would be happy to discuss your case with you. Please feel free to call me at (484) 362-9286.

Can unemployment benefits be denied for negligence involving property damage?

If you were terminated from your job because you accidentally damaged your employer’s property or equipment due to an accident, you may face difficulty obtaining Pennsylvania unemployment compensation (UC) benefits. Accidents are typically caused by what is considered negligent conduct. While a casual act of negligence would not lead to a denial of unemployment benefits, certain acts of negligence could lead to a denial of unemployment benefits.

In order for negligence causing property damage to lead a denial of UC benefits, the conduct must rise to the level of willful carelessness. The UC referee deciding the case will typically look for some conduct which would indicate some level of culpability or fault on the part of the employee.

In some cases, it’s easy to differentiate between negligent conduct which should lead to a denial of benefits and conduct which should not. However, it’s not always clear cut. Employers will typically try to argue the frequency of events to show that the conduct resulted in willful carelessness. For example, if an employee breaches safety protocol and is issued a warning and the employee violates the same type of protocol which results in the same type of property damage, that may be construed as willful carelessness since the employee was put on notice on what specific procedures are required to be followed.

But what if the accident is the first incident resulting in property damage? If that’s the case, the referee deciding the case will simply have to examine all of the facts and circumstances to reach a determination. The most common type of situation where I’ve seen property damage eligibility issues come up is in the context of fork lift operators. Conduct which would lead to a denial of benefits would be speeding on the forklift or a blatant disregard of safety protocols.

Keep in mind that in most contexts, negligence which results in damage to property or equipment will not result in a denial of unemployment benefit unless the employer is able to establish that the negligence was the result of willful carelessness. The employer bears the burden of proof on this issue which is important to note.

If your UC benefits have been denied by the UC Service Center or your employer is filing an appeal, feel free to contact me for a consultation by calling (484) 362-9286. I am a UC attorney that represent claimants located in the Lehigh Valley of Pennsylvania and surrounding areas.