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Legal Resources

Liabilities and Rights of the Tenant

Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance

Preexisting Problems

Inspections

Security Deposits

Moving Out

Evictions

Legal Services & Lawyer Referrals

Consumer Protection Agencies

 

Liabilities and Rights of the Tenant

Repairs: The tenant is liable in damages for any unreasonable or improper use, abuse, mismanagement, or omission of duty involving real estate by one rightfully in possession which results in its substantial damage. Normal wear and tear is not the responsibility of the tenant. It is not the tenant's responsibility to repair defects resulting from the reasonable use of the premises or from an unavoidable act of the action of the elements. The tenant is responsible for damages due to wrongful acts. The tenant is responsible for minor repairs.

Rent: A tenant is relieved from his responsibility to pay rent only through formal written release by the landlord. This amounts to cancellation of the lease. The tenant should always demand a rent receipt. If the tenant is fifteen days behind in rent, the landlord can start eviction procedures.

Sublease: Subleasing is not permitted by the City of Bethlehem.

Utilities: The lease should state the tenant's responsibility for payment of gas, heat, electricity or water. If not mentioned, utilities are the responsibility of the landlord. Heat, electricity and gas, cannot be turned off by the landlord during occupancy except when repair work is needed.

Escalation Clauses: An escalation clause in a lease allows the landlord to charge additional rent for certain expenses that have increased over a stated period of time or above a predetermined unit cost. These clauses usually apply to property taxes and/or utility charges (oil, gas, electricity) and must state three things:

      1. Statement that you are obligated to pay only that portion of the increased expenses that your apartment bears to the whole period.

2. The exact percentage of any increase that the tenant must pay.

3. A statement that if the landlord gets abatement on these expenses the tenant will receive a proportionate share of the abatement.

Utility escalation clauses usually apply when the cost per unit, i.e. the cost per gallon of oil, cost per KWH, cost per cubic foot of gas, exceeds the stated cost in the lease. Make sure these clauses are completely filled with all necessary details.

 

Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance

The Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance, passed by the Council of the City of Bethlehem, requires an inspection of all rental units. The Ordinance specifies an annual license term, fee, and occupancy limit, which landlords should pay particular attention to.

It shall be the duty of the landlord to keep and maintain all regulated rental units in compliance with all applicable codes and provisions of all applicable state laws and regulations and local ordinances, and to keep properties in good and safe condition. Likewise, the occupants shall comply with obligations imposed upon occupants by this Ordinance, applicable codes and ordinances of the City and applicable provisions of state law.

Failure and/or refusal by the owner to secure the necessary inspections, or failure and/or refusal to provide access for inspections, upon reasonable notice, shall be deemed a violation of this ordinance and will be subject to the penalties.

Potential renters are encouraged to inquire if a specific unit is a participant in the Regulated Rental program. Questions and information regarding the Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance can be directed to the Bureau of Housing for the City of Bethlehem at (610) 865-7091. Only regulated rental properties are listed with Places4Students.

On November 8, 2000, the Council of the City of Bethlehem passed Article 1739 titled Regulated Rental Unit Occupancy Ordinance, which requires an inspection of all rental units defined as “a dwelling unit occupied by three or more, but not more than five, unrelated persons under a rental agreement.”  Contact the City of Bethlehem, Bureau of Inspections at 610-865-7091 and make sure that the property that you are interested in is a Regulated Rental before signing a lease. If the rental property lies outside Bethlehem, you should verify that the rental meets code and all housing requirements for the respective housing bureau are met.

 

Preexisting Problems

If a rent for a residence is considered “cheap” compared to others of the area be extremely careful of pre-existing problems, even if the landlord promises to fix them before move-in date.

If you do decide to rent a property that needs repairs, do not sign the lease immediately! Get the landlord to promise to fix the problem(s) in writing by a specific date. Ask the landlord to date and sign the letter. Take pictures and/or video with the date to document preexisting problems.  Do not sign any repair slips or papers about repairs being done on your apartment or house until the work is completed.

 

Inspections

For any problems that the landlord refuses to fix, contact the Bureau of Housing for the City of Bethlehem at (610) 865-7091, for possible assistance. They will inspect your home and may require your landlord to bring the sub-standard condition up to code standards. The following is a list of potential code violations that the inspectors may look for:

  • Clean and working kitchen and bathroom facilities
  • Cracked foundations
  • Decayed and rotted exterior wood surfaces
  • Exterior doors and windows
  • Functioning heating systems
  • GFI outlets in all bathrooms and powder rooms
  • GFI outlets within 6' on either side of kitchen sinks
  • Minimum of 100 amps per dwelling unit
  • Missing fire escapes
  • Missing handrails and guardrails
  • Missing rain gutters and leaders
  • Non-working outside lighting
  • Possible overcrowding
  • Proper working outlets and hallway lighting
  • Roofing deficiencies such as leaks or missing shingles
  • Windows that open and lock properly
  • Working smoke detectors on all levels

 

Security Deposits:

A security deposit is a payment that a landlord requires from a tenant to ensure the payment of rent and damages. The amount of one months rent is normal, but anything over two months rent is not. The security deposit should be returned within a reasonable period of time (thirty days) after tenancy ends. If there are damages to the apartment that the landlord feels are the tenant's responsibility, they will deduct the cost of those damages from the security deposit and may charge additional fees to complete repairs that the security deposit may not cover.  You should ask to receive an itemized list to explain the deductions. Again, what is written in your lease will determine specifics about the return of your security deposits.

 

Moving Out:

Approximately one to two weeks before the end of the lease, ask the landlord to inspect the premises for damages. If possible, have the landlord make an itemized list of all damages, including estimated costs of repair. A list of damages and photographs made at the beginning of the lease can be used to avoid unfair duplication. The tenant can probably save money by having the repairs completed prior to inspection. Make sure that the apartment is as clean as when you moved in. The overall impression that the landlord gets at inspection can make your moving out smoother and easier.

 

Evictions:

An eviction is the only legal way for a landlord to force a tenant to leave a rental unit. A landlord has the right to evict the tenant without stating any reason when the lease expires so long as proper notice is given. The landlord can evict during the lease period only when the tenant breaches one or more of the basic obligations. An eviction is usually the result of a violation of the lease. The most common causes of eviction are non-payment of rent, deliberate acts of destruction or neglect to premises, and disturbance of tenants/neighbors on a repeated basis.

 

Legal Services & Lawyer Referrals:

The University does not provide legal advice or offer legal services for students. The Bar Association of Northampton County and the Bar Association of Lehigh County offer lawyer referral services that provide an initial consultation for a modest fee and referrals to local attorneys.

Northampton County Attorney

Referral & Information Service

155 South 9th Street

Easton, PA 18042

(610) 258-6333

http://www.norcobar.org

 

Lehigh County Lawyer Referral Service

1114 W. Walnut St.

Allentown, PA 18102

(610) 433-6204

http://www.lehighbar.org

 

Consumer Protection Agencies

District Justice Court

Hears lawsuits for up to $8,000 without attorneys. Fee for filing a suit is $25 or less and is returned if you win. The nearest District Court to Lehigh University is:

Magisterial Court 3-2-10

202 W. 4th Street, Suite 2, Bethlehem

(610) 868-9191

 

Pennsylvania State Bureau of Consumer Protection

(215) 560-2494 Philadelphia Region

Accepts written complaints against businesses and landlords. The Bureau will attempt to mediate the problem.

 

Pennsylvania State Public Utilities Commission

(800) 692-7380 Hotline

Hears complaints against utility companies.

 

Lehigh Valley Better Business Bureau

(610) 866-8780

Associations of businesses which set standards of practice for their members. The Bureau will attempt to mediate complaints against their members.