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 determining 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:
- 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 If a tenant fails to provide this written notice, he or she can still sue, but the Landlord Tenant Act is likely no longer applicable because the tenant failed to avail himself or herself of its protection.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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