Renting a commercial or residential space comes with certain expectations for both the renter and landlord. The lease agreement outlines the terms in writing. While the landlord expects to be paid in a timely fashion, the renter also can count on certain conditions like the habitability of the space, which must comply with local and state housing codes. If a landlord fails to meet the habitability standards and does not respond to the tenant’s request for improvements, the tenant can sue the landlord for material non-compliance. Conversely, the landlord may also argue that the tenant is in material non-compliance.
There are specific non-negotiable standards a landlord must meet in Pennsylvania. They must ensure that the space has adequate heating, water, electrical, and cleanliness. It also must be structurally sound. Examples include:
- Leaky roof
- A bug or rodent infestation
- Unreliable electrical that is not up to code
- Toilets that do not work
What to do if there is a habitability problem
The circumstances of each case are different. The tenant has the right to:
- Withhold rent: Not paying will get their attention, but it is also good to put the payments in an escrow account, which they can empty once the issue is fixed or the court orders the renter to pay.
- Repair and deduct: Tenants can also pay a professional to make the repair and deduct that expense from rent. Be sure to provide receipts.
- Get a court order: This would require the landlord to make necessary repairs.
- File a lawsuit: The tenant may recover money paid for rent if the space is not habitable.
What if the tenant’s actions are a problem?
The tenant may also cause the issue. Examples include:
- They disturb the peace to the point where it impacts other tenants’ habitability.
- There are unauthorized occupants also occupying the property.
- The tenant has an unauthorized pet.
- The tenant does not meet its maintenance obligations.
- Personal property occupying shared public spaces on the property.
One of the above examples can also prompt the landlord to claim material non-compliance.
Not sure if your situation qualifies?
Not all landlords and tenants have strong working relationships, so consulting with an attorney who handles real estate disputes may be helpful. These legal professionals can help determine whether the case has legal standing and can even pursue damages if the dispute impacts them materially or in other ways.