Below are some of the remedies a tenant has when the landlord does not perform the duties outlined by lease and law, especially when they pertain to breach of the warranty of habitability. These are quite drastic remedies and they should not be used without first following the guidelines outlined elsewhere in our information.
Do not make use of these remedies without first obtaining legal advice. The information provided here is not legal advice.
The landlord is required to maintain the rental unit and the services that are vital to the life, health and safety of the tenant so that the unit you are renting is at all times habitable. By entering into a contract with the landlord, the tenant is automatically given an assurance, a warranty that the premises are in safe and habitable condition and that they will be maintained so during tenancy. This is called the "warranty of habitability". The warranty of habitability is a tenant's unwaivable right and the tenant has certain remedies available when the landlord is in breach of the warranty of habitability. Landlord must comply with the building and property maintenance code of the locality where the rental property is situated (in Philadelphia - the Property Maintenance Code issued by the City of Philadelphia Licenses and Inspections).
To open the way to accessing remedies against landlord breach of warranty of habitability, the tenant must proceed in the following manner:
Notify landlord of the existing defect and request that the landlord correct the problem. Use certified mail, return receipt requested. If it is an emergency, use the most efficient way of contacting the landlord, phone, fax, email, personal visit to office, but also make sure that this communication to the landlord is documented. Document the problem (pictures, videos, etc.). Make sure you can prove that the problem is a serious violation of the housing code. Call the Licenses and Inspections office of the City of Philadelphia and request an inspection.
Give the landlord a reasonable amount of time to cure the defect. Reasonable time varies with the severity of the defect: for lack of heat in very cold weather this could be 24 hours. (If you smell gas or if there is a fire, contact the gas emergency line or the fire department first, not the landlord). Notify landlord one more time and give reasonable time to fix problem.
If the landlord fails to correct the defect/violation/serious disrepair problem you can resort to legal remedies such as: "repair and deduct", escrow/withhold rent or move out of the premises. WE ADVISE THAT YOU SEEK LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE ATTEMPTING TO USE THE REMEDIES LISTED BELOW:
1. Repair and Deduct
For the tenant to make the repairs and deduct the cost from rent due, the repairs must be necessary to make the premises habitable. The amount of money paid for the repair cannot exceed the amount still due under the lease. Tenant must obtain written estimates (at least two) from licensed professionals and choose a reasonably priced option. The repairs must be reasonable and the burden of proving that the repairs are both necessary to maintain habitability and reasonable in terms of cost and expertise falls on the tenant.
2. Demand retroactive rent abatement and or/refund of rent for lack of use of premises or reduction in use and sue if landlord does not respond to the demand.
3. Withhold/prorate future rent. (Escrow funds strongly recommended).
4. If the warranty of habitability is breached to a very dangerous extent and the apartment is unsafe and uninhabitable, the tenant can cancel the lease and move out. This can only be done if the tenant has informed the landlord of the problems (e.g. lack of heat in winter, broken locks, lack of hot water, etc), has given the landlord a reasonable amount of time to correct the problem, has informed the landlord of intention to terminate lease as a remedy for breach of warranty, has followed the recommended procedure for checkout, has delivered the keys and has left a forwarding address for the return of the security deposit. Remember, if you cannot prove that the defect existed and if you did not follow the correct procedure, the landlord may claim that you are in breach by terminating the lease and moving out.
Please remember that these remedies are extreme and must only be used upon the advice of legal counsel.