Housing and Leasing Rights for Victims of Domestic Violence
As a landlord, it is important to know that in Pennsylvania the victims of domestic violence have special housing protections. As a victim, it is important to know which protections pertain to you. In any landlord and tenant relationship, it is beneficial for both parties to be aware of what is expected of the other.
Pennsylvania Family Law, specifically, 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 6108, provides for various forms of securities for victims of domestic violence. Section 6108(a) relates to the victim’s home and provides that a court may grant possession of the residence to the victim by evicting the abuser if the residence is jointly owned or leased by the entireties or if the residence is owned or leased solely by the victim. If a victim seeks civil relief, Section 6108 also grants a court authority to order the alleged abuser to make, or continue to make, rent or mortgage payments on the residence of the victim to the extent the alleged abuser has a duty to support the victim or other dependents in the household. As the landlord, it is important to recognize that, if a Protection from Abuse Order has been entered against one of the tenants, that tenant may not be permitted to enter the property even if that tenant is on the lease and still paying the rent.
Another safeguard for a victim of abuse is when a victim decides that he or she does not want to remain in the residence. In some cases, a victim may have the ability to terminate the lease early without penalty. Several counties in Pennsylvania provide that if a tenant is the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, the tenant may terminate the lease by providing the landlord with advance-written notice of termination. An example of a county that provides this opportunity to a tenant is Philadelphia County. Section 9-804 of the Philadelphia Code permits a victim of abuse to terminate his or her lease early as long as appropriate steps are followed. In conjunction with this, when the tenant is a victim of domestic or sexual violence, the landlord cannot keep the security deposit for the sole reason the tenant broke the lease early. Further, some ordinances make it illegal for a landlord to evict the victim, raise the rent, or refuse to make repairs on the residence due to the fact the tenant is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault. However, in many cases, if a tenant fails to pay rent, a landlord is permitted to evict a tenant even if he or she is a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault.
When it comes to local ordinances, Pennsylvania law provides for a protection that pertains to both tenants and landlords. In 2014, Pennsylvania lawmakers enacted Act 200 (located in Section 304 of Title 53 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes) which provides that a municipality is forbidden from enacting an ordinance that penalizes a resident, tenant or landlord for requesting police or emergency assistance by or on behalf of a victim of abuse, a victim of a crime, or an individual in an emergency. This Act was created in an effort to encourage victims to seek necessary police relief without penalty. If a landlord, tenant, or resident is punished by a municipality for seeing relief under these or similar circumstances, he or she is permitted to bring a civil action against the municipality that violated these State afforded protections.
If you are a victim of abuse who is renting a property, or a landlord who has questions related to a tenant who is a victim of abuse, please contact a member of our team to determine the rights you may have based upon your individual circumstances.
The information contained in this publication should not be construed as legal advice, is not a substitute for legal counsel, and should not be relied on as such. For legal advice or answers to specific questions, please contact one of our attorneys.