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.

How Severance Pay Affects PA UC Benefits

On January 1, 2012, Act 6 of 2011 went into effect, which made some very important changes to Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation Law. The most important aspect of this law was the way severance pay was treated with respect to calculating an employee’s unemployment compensation benefits. In some cases, severance pay may act as an offset against unemployment benefits which would reduce the amount of unemployment benefits a person can receive.

Prior to Act 6, employees could collect unemployment benefits regardless of the amount of severance received from their former employer. After the enactment Act 6, an offset is taken into consideration. The offset uses a formula to determine the amount of the offset based on “40% of the average annual wage.” Currently, “40% of the average annual wage” equals $17,853, which is subject to change. An employee can receive up to 40% of the average annual wage until their unemployment benefits are affected. As of 2015, this amount has increased to $19,417, and this figure will continue to change annually.

This means that if your severance award is less than $19,417, your unemployment benefits will not be affected. Any severance award you receive over $19,417 will reduce your unemployment benefits on a dollar-for-dollar basis. Severance agreements reached prior to January 1, 2012, will not be affected by this law. When applying for PA UC benefits, it’s important to notify the Department of Labor if you are receiving any severance so they can properly calculate the unemployment benefits you may be entitled to.

If you have any questions regarding your PA UC benefits, please feel free to contact me at (484) 362-9286.

Please also review the Severance FAQ provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor.

My PA UC Claim Is Under Review – What Should I Do?

Question:

I went to check the status of my PA UC claim and I received a message that states “there is an issue on the claim that is currently being reviewed.” What does this mean for me?

Answer:

The PA UC Application Review Process

After you apply for unemployment compensation benefits in Pennsylvania, your case is assigned to a UC Representative who is responsible for investigating your claim and reaching a determination on whether or not you are eligible for UC benefits. This individual will review your initial application to obtain basic information regarding your claim. The representative will then contact the employer and request that the employer submit a questionnaire regarding the reason the employee’s employment ended. You may also be asked to submit a questionnaire as well.

If additional information is needed to clarify responses, the investigator has the ability to interview both the employee and the employer over the phone. However, the UC representative typically issues a determination based on the initial application  as well as subsequent questionnaires submitted by both parties.

The review process typically takes 4-6 weeks. Simply stay patient during this process. If you wish to check the status of your claim, you can call the UC Service Center for an update.

The PA UC Decision

The UC Representative will then reach a decision on whether an applicant is eligible for benefits. This decision is called the Notice of Determination. Both the employee and the employer will be mailed the Notice of Determination and either party has the right to file an appeal. An appeal must be filed within 15 days from the date the Notice of Determination is mailed.

The Notice of Determination will state if a particular section of law disqualifies a claimant from receiving unemployment benefits. The section of law that is most often used is Section 402(e) which relates to “willful misconduct.” This section will be used if the employer is alleging a rule violation or some sort of wrongdoing on the employee’s part. Other sections may also be used, such as Section 402(b) if you voluntarily quit your employment.

The PA UC Appeal Process

Upon filing an appeal to a Notice of Determination, the case will be scheduled for a UC Referee Hearing in approximately 4-6 weeks from the date of the appeal. Both the employer and the employee will be given the opportunity to provide testimony and offer evidence regarding the reason the employment ended. The referee hearing is the parties only opportunity to present evidence and testimony. After the referee hearing, an appeal can be filed with the Board of Review, who will review the referee’s decision to determine if it was correct.

Hiring a PC UC Attorney

If you are interested in retaining a Pennsylvania unemployment compensation attorney for your hearing, please contact me. My phone number is (484) 362-9286 and I am happy to provide a consultation for your case. My office is located in Bethlehem, PA, and I primarily practice in the Lehigh Valley area.