May 01, 2017
Most of our lives are spent in real estate. Whether it’s an apartment or house we rent, own, or develop, or that office job where we work 9 to 5. We literally eat, sleep, and work in real estate for the majority of our lives. In other words, REAL ESTATE MATTERS. That’s what prompted me, a real estate attorney based in Philadelphia, to write this column for PhillyVoice. Each week, I will select questions from readers on topics surrounding housing and real estate, which affect Philadelphians at home or work and then answer them from a legal point of view.
So, let’s jump right in!
Q: What law exists to support renters who do not get their security deposit back after 30 days? -- Heidi S., from Fairmount
A. I assume you’re asking about a residential home or apartment, since there are no special protections guaranteed to anyone who rents a space for their business.
In Pennsylvania, a landlord is legally required to return the security deposit owed to their tenant or explain why some or all of the security deposit is not being returned within 30 days. The only caveat is that the 30-day period does not begin until the tenant gives a forwarding address to the landlord.
If the landlord does not return the security deposit within this 30-day time period AND does not explain why any portion is not being returned, the landlord not only waives their right to the security deposit, but the tenant would be entitled to an amount equal to double the improperly withheld security deposit. The landlord could also be responsible for the reimbursement of any legal fees and costs incurred by the tenant as a result of the landlord’s refusal to return the security deposit.
From a practical point, the tenant should try to give the location of their forwarding address to the landlord through electronic means, such as through an e-mail or text message. That way, the landlord will have a very hard time claiming that they never received the tenant’s forwarding address if the dispute ever goes to court.
Tenants can also protect themselves by taking photographs of the rental property from all angles immediately after moving out. By doing so, the tenant will have proof of the condition of the rental property when they left and can counteract any possible false allegations made by the landlord as to the condition of the rental property.
Typically, the more the tenant has their “ducks in a row,” so to speak, the more likely the landlord will simply let the matter go and return the security deposit to the tenant, and, if that does not happen, then the tenant is putting themselves in a good position to sue the landlord.
The materials and information contained on this column have been prepared by Alan solely for general informational purposes and do not constitute legal advice. You should consult with an attorney for a real estate matter you are currently encountering.
Alan Nochumson is a leading real estate attorney in Philadelphia who founded his law firm, Nochumson P.C., more than a decade ago. Alan has represented a “who’s who” of clients in the city - from developers to landlords, restaurants to retailers, homebuyers and tenants. When he is not lawyering, Alan is playing basketball in recreational leagues, sitting on a mayoral-appointed board or commission, and writing a monthly column for a legal publication. Alan and his family live in the city’s Fairmount neighborhood. You can learn more about Alan by visiting his website.