Under Pennsylvania landlord-tenant laws, landlords have a right to ask for a security deposit. It acts as a safety net, ensuring compensation for any losses they might incur as a result of a tenant’s negligent actions. Examples of negligent actions a tenant can commit include:

  • Failing to pay rent
  • Breaking the lease for reasons that are not legally justified
  • Causing excessive property damage
  • Failing to clear utility bills when moving out

In such cases, a landlord has a right to withhold part or all of your tenant’s deposit to minimize your losses. Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned landlord looking to learn more, here are the basics of the Pennsylvania security deposit law. 

Maximum Security Deposit 

According to Pennsylvania law, landlords cannot charge whatever amount of security deposit they wish. The maximum security deposit a landlord can charge is capped based on the length of tenancy. 

During the first year of the lease agreement, the maximum a landlord can collect is capped at the equivalent of two months’ rent. During the second year of the lease and any year after that, a landlord must only ask for a maximum of one month’s rent as a security deposit. And, for a tenant that has lived on their rental for at least five years, a landlord cannot increase the amount even if the rent goes up. 

Additional Pet Deposit 

Pennsylvania law allows landlords to ask for an additional pet deposit. A landlord can use the additional deposit to cover any pet-related damage that may occur during the tenancy. 

Disabled tenants are, however, exempt from paying a pet deposit. According to the Fair Housing Act, disabled people are entitled to full and equal access to housing. Thus, requiring a tenant to pay extra for their service animals would amount to discrimination. As the landlord, you are allowed to hold the tenant liable for any damage their service animal causes, though. 

Cleaning Fee

Pennsylvania landlords are allowed to charge a cleaning fee. However, this must only be a necessary step to bring the rental unit to the same state it was when the tenant was moving in. Beyond that, a landlord can only charge the tenant a cleaning fee against their security deposit if the rental agreement allows it. 

Rules for Storing a Tenant’s Security Deposit 

In Pennsylvania, a tenant has the right to have their security deposit stored in either of two ways. The first option a landlord has is to store the deposit in an escrow account. If, as the landlord, you choose to go with this option, then you must adhere to the following requirements:

  • Security deposits in Pennsylvania must be at least $100
  • The financial institution must be regulated by either the Pennsylvania Department of Banking, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, or the Federal Reserve Board 
  • The account can either be interest-bearing or not

storing a security deposit

The second option a landlord has to store your tenant’s deposit is to post a guarantee bond for the amount of the security deposit. The bonding company a landlord chooses must be authorized to do business in Pennsylvania. 

The other option is to store your tenant’s deposit in an interest-accruing account. However, a landlordmust only use this option for a tenant that starts their third year, or 25th month. You must also pay them the accrued interest annually, less the 1% management fee that you can deduct. 

Right to Notice After Receipt 

Do Pennsylvania tenants have a right to be notified after their landlord receives their security deposit? Yes! Once a landlord receives their tenant’s deposit and stores it through either of the aforementioned ways, they must notify their tenant in writing of the same. In the written notice, you, the landlord, must include the following details:

  • The name and address of the bank. 
  • The amount of security deposit a landlord has deposited. 

Reasons to Keep a Tenant’s Security Deposit 

In Pennsylvania, you, the landlord, may be able to keep all or a portion of your tenant’s deposit for any of the following reasons:

  • If the tenant has failed to pay rent
  • When damage exceeds standard wear and tear
  • Other breaches of the lease agreement, such as in the case of rental property abandonment 

Normal Wear & Tear vs. Damage 

Standard wear and tear is the deterioration that occurs naturally as a result of the tenant using the rental as intended. These are minor issues that include lightly scratched glass, stained bathroom fixtures, loose door handles, and gently worn carpets. 

property damages covered by security deposit

Damage exceeding normal wear and tear, on the other hand, impacts the unit’s usefulness and value. Examples include broken windows, missing fixtures, smashed bathroom mirrors, and broken tiles. 

Returning a Tenant’s Security Deposit 

If you, as the landlord, haven’t deductions to the deposit, you must return it to the tenant within a period of 30 days after they move out. 

If you’ve made deductions, you must still return the remaining portion of the deposit within 30 days of the tenant moving out. If you, the landlord, fail to return it within that window, you’ll forfeit your right to make any deductions. Furthermore, you may be liable for paying the tenant up to double the amount of the security deposit. 

With deductions, you must provide your tenant with an itemized list of all damages plus their approximate cost of repair. If, as the landlord, you fail to do this, you’ll lose your right to make any appropriate deductions to the deposit. 

Note that tenants have the responsibility of providing their Pennsylvania landlord with a forwarding address. 

Security Deposit as Last Month’s Rent 

Usually, a tenant isn’t allowed to use security deposits as last month’s rent under Pennsylvania’s security deposit laws. The only exception to this is if there is an agreement between the landlord and tenant to use the deposit to cover the unpaid rent. 

Bottom Line

In addition to understanding and following the Pennsylvania security deposit laws, landlords are also required to follow the legal eviction process, landlord-tenant laws, leasing policies, and other rental regulations. 

If you’re a landlord and would like help making sense of these legal responsibilities or managing your rentals contact the team at Keyrenter Property Management BuxMont today! 

Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. Laws change and this blog may not be updated at the time of your reading. If you have any questions regarding this content please get in touch with a licensed attorney.