EUSGA holds landlord-tenant legal advice presentation

Category:  News
Friday, November 1st, 2019 at 11:50 AM

Edinboro criminal justice professor and former Erie district attorney Dr. Joseph Conti outlined tenant-landlord relationships in a recent presentation arranged by Edinboro University Student Government Association (EUSGA).

Having heard a few too many horror stories from students about their landlords, Conti wanted to offer members of the campus community a chance to learn about the laws regarding housing, along with an opportunity to ask questions about their experiences. To do so, he helped organize the event.

The lecture, which took place Oct. 21 in the Frank G. Pogue Student Center, primarily featured David Baxter, a defense attorney with Northwest Legal Services. Meanwhile, Conti and audience members asked pertinent questions. A document, titled “Residential Landlord Tenant Law Summary,” was handed out to the audience, as were copies of a PowerPoint presentation further summarizing the legal information.

Baxter, recipient of an award from the American Bar Association for his pro bono work with Northwest Legal Services helping people with their housing issues, said he was not used to public speaking, but felt it necessary in this instance. Careful to open his lecture with the acknowledgment that many landlords in the Edinboro area are perfectly respectable, Baxter also acknowledged the need for this information: “We know that some of the landlords in this area are heavy-handed in dealing with tenants.” He continued on to say that the legal information provided could help anyone who leases a living space, both now and in the future.

Common oversteps by landlords, as outlined by Baxter, include failing to maintain the property and specified utilities, along with putting responsibility for property repairs on the tenant. Tenants should not ever be responsible for “normal wear and tear,” according to Baxter. He added that darkened carpets, worn linoleum and scratched countertops should not constitute a tenant losing their security deposit.

Baxter also noted that renovation of the apartment is not the responsibility of the tenant; improvements such as painting the walls of the living space or replacing the carpets are on the landlord, not the tenant.

Other common landlord mistakes are overcharging for, or unnecessarily keeping, a security deposit, or engaging in a “breach of quiet enjoyment.”

“Breach of quiet enjoyment” refers to any wrongful act committed by the landlord that interferes with the tenant’s lawful enjoyment of the property, such as limiting who the tenant can bring on the property as guests. Other examples include the landlord entering the property without permission or legitimate purpose, the landlord performing rigorous inspections, and the landlord failing to “abate a nuisance at the property” such as a leaky faucet or cockroaches.

The “usual scenario” of a security deposit dispute described in the PowerPoint read: “Slumlords often refuse to return security deposits, because they know it will be hard for the tenant to get it back through the legal system.” When a client leaves the premises and a landlord does not return the security deposit, usually the “client calls Landlord, who rope-a-dopes client and/or claims damages to the property which Client disputes,” according to the PowerPoint. Baxter and Conti’s advice to tenants experiencing a “rope-a-dope” is to “send [the] landlord a written demand for return of the deposit” via certified and regular mail.

Baxter stressed that leases, written or oral, are technically contracts. Therefore, contract law is applicable to leases and disputes over them. Baxter discouraged negotiating lease stipulations orally or via text or email, as these may not be admissible during a legal battle over the contractual lease if one arises. “Get everything in writing and make copies,” he said.

Conti and Baxter agreed that to protect oneself, a tenant should do a walk-through of the apartment with the landlord before signing the lease, noting pre-existing damage and any required repairs. Taking photos and videos of the state of the living space before the tenant moves in is a great way to amass evidence for any disputes about the security deposit later on.

Conti also recommended reading through the lease with someone who understands any legal jargon that may be used in it. “There’s an awful lot that works in favor of the landlord in a lease…on the other hand, you are not left powerless.” he said.

If you feel your landlord has violated your rights, you can receive a free advice consultation by telephone from Northwest Legal Services. If financially eligible, you can also receive free legal representation should these violations constitute legal action.

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