Welcome to my second post on the legal requirements for residential rental properties in the City of Philadelphia. Part one is below and at this link. In this post, I’ll focus on compliance with Philadelphia’s Lead Laws.
Lead Certification - This certification is required for residential rental units in Philadelphia built prior to 1978 where children age six or under will reside. Those properties - referred to as “targeted housing” under the law - must be certified as either lead-free or lead-safe by a licensed inspector or certified technician. Some properties, including those owned or subsidized by the Philadelphia Housing Authority, are exempt from the law.
The lead law requires the landlord to obtain a “lead safe” certificate, present it to the tenant, and have the tenant sign it. The landlord must then send a copy of the signed certificate to the Philadelphia Department of Public Health. The city recently expanded the law to include lead water service lines and plumbing components, but as of July 2018, no additional information or resources on the lead water amendments are available from the city.
The city code states that a landlord who is not in compliance with the Lead Law cannot collect rent or evict a tenant. In addition, the lead law gives a tenant the power to sue a landlord to return any rent previously paid to the landlord during any period where the landlord did not have a valid lead certification.
Some thoughts on compliance with this law: Although this certification is only required for units where kids ages six and under will reside, it’s a good idea for all landlords to obtain this certification. First of all, a tenant could become pregnant or adopt a child, and the landlord may not know. A tenant could also have children who visit periodically, or whose temporary visit turns into an indefinite stay. A well-drafted lease will list all occupants and their ages, but it’s risky to rely solely on the lease - even if the lease does not list any children, the landlord-tenant court may consider testimony from a tenant about their changing living situation. If the property has been certified, this will not be an issue.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of strict compliance with all these certifications. A landlord who doesn’t have a valid Rental License or Certificate of Rental Suitability can’t evict a tenant for any reason, whether nonpayment of rent, termination of term, or breach of lease. A landlord who has not complied with the lead law can’t evict a tenant, and can also be sued by the tenant for a refund of rent already paid.
Don’t take chances with the lead law. Compliance is inexpensive, but a civil judgment could cost thousands.
William R. McLaughlin, Esq.