One of the most common Property Law – landlord/tenant issues I run into as a Pittsburgh attorney occurs when a tenant moves out of a property and the landlord mishandles the security deposit. Residential landlords should be mindful of the Property Law – “Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951,” which governs interactions between landlords and tenants. The act requires a landlord to provide a former tenant with an itemized list of any damages to the property that the landlord must now repair within 30 days of the end of the lease.
Additionally, the landlord must then send a check for the difference between the initial security deposit, with interest, and the damages claimed by the landlord with the itemized list. If the landlord does not provide the written list and payment to the tenant within 30 days, the Act states that the landlord forfeits his right to the deposit and his right to sue the tenant for any damages to the property. In addition, by failing to return the security deposit to the tenant, he may be held civilly liable for twice the original amount of the security deposit.
The lesson for landlords is that they must carefully document any damages to the property and promptly notify the former tenant if they wish to retain any portion of the security deposit. If not, the landlord could be on the hook for double the amount of the security deposit. The tenant should carefully photograph the property on move-in day and retain those pictures to make sure the landlord does not hold them accountable for damages that were not caused during the duration of the lease. In addition, tenants should be aware of their right to sue the landlord if he fails to provide documentation of damages and a check for the remainder of the security deposit within 30 days.
Matthew R. Rogers, Esquire
Gusty A.E. Sunseri & Associates, P.C.