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Being a Philadelphia landlord is harder than you think.

Property values in Philadelphia are booming. As arguably the most dynamic and up-and-coming big city on the East Coast, the City of Brotherly Love enjoys a certain, undeniable cache that makes people want to live there, especially in hot neighborhoods like Old City, Strawberry Mansion, Bella Vista, and Avenue of the Arts. If you happen to be lucky enough to have a second home, investment real estate, or you are planning to move but want to hold on to your property, it’s very likely that renting has crossed your mind. Rents are sky-high in some of Philly’s best neighborhoods, and becoming a landlord can be a comfy little side-hustle. But man oh man, is there ever a learning curve. Being a Philly landlord is nowhere near as easy as you think it is, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be the impossible dream, either. There is a lot of misinformation about renting out there, and I am here to try and break the reality down for you.

You think: I’m responsible for all repairs.

The truth: While disgruntled tenants love to cast this line up in landlords’ faces, it’s not technically true as a blanket statement. Like any city, Philadelphia has its own laws governing the tenant/landlord relationship, and specifies what repairs are always a landlord’s responsibility. Come to find out, property owners are only on the hook for repairs that affect the “habitability” of the structure. This of course means bathroom repairs, appliance failure, HVAC issues, and other “big” problems. These are the ones that impact tenants’ health, safety, and/or welfare. Smaller repairs, like replacing AC filters and lightbulbs, falls on the tenant, along with any damages caused by tenants listed on the lease, their visitors, or their pets.

You think: As a Philadelphia landlord, I can’t refuse to rent to ex-felons.

The truth: If you think that your safety or the safety of your property will be impeded, you can in fact refuse to rent to someone with a criminal record, as this is not a protected class of people under Fair Housing. You are not allowed to discriminate against people convicted of drug-related offenses for possession, but you can for dealing or trafficking. You are well within your rights to deny the rental of your property to anyone with a record, even if that record is a misdemeanor that is very old. With that said, that doesn’t mean that you should. If the prospective tenant has a single conviction that is ten years old and they are able to prove to you that they are now a productive, contributing member of society, there is no reason why you shouldn’t bar them. If anything makes your spider sense tingle, however, it’s best to say no.

You think: I can just use a generic rental agreement that I printed up off the internet.

The truth: These forms, usually available through your local Realtor association, are very generic. Even worse are non-Pennsylvania-specific forms that you pull up off the web. Crafting a customized Pennsylvania/Philadelphia lease agreement is more time-consuming and expensive, but it has the potential to save you from major legal headaches in the future, should something go wrong. The first thing you should do is make yourself familiar with the provisions that are in a standard agreement and what special ones should apply to your situation. There are usually extenuating circumstances that will apply to your property, and that should be factored into your specific lease. If you don’t feel competent to cover any problems that you suspect may arise with your rental home, it is best that you consult a lawyer for help.

You think: Neighborly noise disputes? Not my problem!

The truth: Especially in areas of Philadelphia where young people flock – think University City, or certain parts of Queen Village – there will be noise. There will be parties, there will be radios played too loudly, late into the night, and there will, in ever-so-slightly older-skewing buildings, be babies crying. Noise complaints are part of rental life, and tenants need to settle matters between themselves, right? Actually, wrong. Most leases provide for the tenants’ “quiet enjoyment” of the premises, and this excludes neighbors who scream at each other into the wee hours, invite half the block over for a rager, or thud about like elephants upstairs. This, of course, applies mostly if you own a multi-unit building, but it can also be an issue when it comes to condos, which are one of the primary forms of residence in Center City. It’s considered the courteous and right thing to do to help your tenants with noise issues when and where they arise.


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