Chapter 9-804 of the Philadelphia Code describes unfair rental practices by landlords. If you believe that you’ve experienced unfair rental practices, you can file a complaint.
Unlawful lease termination
Terminating a lease or changing its terms when a property is cited for a code violation
Citations may be issued by the Department of Licenses and Inspections, the Department of Public Health, or a utility company.
As an example, if a property is cited for a violation, the landlord may not respond by raising a tenant’s rent or by issuing a notice for them to vacate the property.
Terminating a lease of less than one year without good cause
The law prevents an owner or landlord from issuing a lease termination or non-renewal notice without first showing a “good cause” reason. This rule applies to leases that are for less than one year, including those that convert to shorter time frames like month to month.
Examples of good cause reasons to terminate a lease include:
- Habitual non-payment or habitual late-payment of rent. (This does not apply if the tenant is legally withholding rent.)
- Breach or non-compliance with a “material term” of the lease.
- Nuisance activity by the tenant that interferes with others’ use and enjoyment of the property.
- Tenant causes substantial damage to the property.
- Tenant does not allow landlord access to the property, after the landlord has provided written notice.
- Tenant refuses to sign an extension of the lease for generally the same lease terms.
- Owner, or an immediate family member of the owner, is going to move into the unit.
- Tenant refuses to agree to a reasonable rent increase or a change in the lease. (The landlord must provide notice to tenant and opportunity for response.)
- Owner wants to make renovations with an empty unit. (They must provide notice and options to tenant.)
A landlord must provide at least 30 days’ written notice to the tenant with the good cause reasons to terminate or not renew the lease. The notice must be sent by hand delivery or first-class mail with proof of mailing. If the landlord does not issue a notice as provided by the law, the lease automatically renews month to month.
Tenants can challenge a landlord’s notice with the Fair Housing Commission or in court. Tenants must file a complaint within 15 business days of receiving the notice and notify the landlord.
Attempting to evict a tenant without first going through the court process
Examples of “self-help eviction practices” include:
- Changing, removing, or plugging the locking device on an access door to the rental unit.
- Removing or blocking the doors and windows of the rental unit to prevent access.
- Disconnecting the utility services.
- Forcing a tenant to vacate by use of force or threat to the tenant’s safety or the tenant’s property.
Chapter 9-1600 of the Philadelphia Code describes unlawful eviction practices in greater detail.
Illegally locking out a tenant
The law prevents an owner or landlord from illegally locking a tenant out of a property. Often, this is done to attempt to force an eviction.
Tenants who are locked out should call 911 and ask for a police supervisor. When the police arrive, the tenant will need to provide proof that they live at the property. This might include a driver’s license, a copy of their lease, or a bill.
The police will request proof from the landlord that the lockout was legal. If the landlord can’t provide proof, the police will tell them to let the tenant back onto the property.
If the police can’t contact the landlord, the tenant can hire a locksmith to change locks. The tenant should get a receipt and deduct the cost from their rent.
If a tenant still can’t get access to the property, they can contact:
- Community Legal Services, (215) 981-3700
- Tenant Union Representative Network, (215) 940-3900
- Philadelphia Tenant Advocate, (215) 606-3556
- Philadelphia Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service, (215) 238-6333
Retaliation and discrimination
Retaliating against a tenant for exercising a legal right
Examples of a tenant’s legal rights include joining a tenant organization or filing a complaint that alleges code violations. Retaliation by a landlord may include raising rent, shutting off utilities, or attempting to evict tenants.
Discriminating against a tenant based on a specific protected category
Philadelphia law prohibits discrimination by landlords and other providers of housing and property. For example, a landlord may not reject an application for tenancy based on the prospective tenant’s race or religion.
Contact the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations to submit a complaint about housing or property discrimination.
The law also includes abuse protections. Victims of domestic violence or sexual assault may end their lease early and get back their security deposit. They may also bifurcate (or split) a lease to evict an abuser.
It is illegal for a landlord to:
- Terminate a lease due to an incident of domestic violence or sexual assault.
- Terminate a lease based on a tenant’s status as a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Right to Counsel
Low-income tenants in some ZIP codes are eligible for Right to Counsel. This law guarantees the right to an attorney for fair housing hearings, eviction cases, or housing subsidy termination actions.
Learn more about how to get free legal representation for a proceeding.