This article is part of a series we’re writing about tenants' rights in Philadelphia. Got a question?Ask us using the form at the bottom of this article.
If you’ve been renting for a while, finding out your rent is going up is something you’ve probably gone through.
According to a Pew Charitable Trusts study, rents increased 7% citywide between 2009 and 2018, accounting for inflation. And while Philly is considered a relatively affordable city, some 54% of renters spent more than 30% of their income on housing in 2018, the most recent year for which data were available.
Rent increases are common. So, when can your landlord raise your rent and by how much? Here is what you need to know:
There are no rent control laws that limit how much a landlord can raise your rent. That means that theoretically, if your landlord wanted to, they could double or even triple your rent, and no law would expressly prevent them from doing so.
“There is no rent control or rent stabilization law in Pennsylvania. That’s true in Philadelphia, too,” says Holly Beck, a staff attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia’s housing unit. “It can make a place that’s affordable unaffordable overnight.”
The coronavirus pandemic has not led to any additional protections for tenants against rent increases, either. (Philadelphia’s recently passed Emergency Housing Protection Act waives late fees if you are struggling to pay rent right now, provided you give your landlord a financial hardship self-certification form.)
A landlord doubling your rent, however, would be unusual. Beck says that most landlords — especially small, “mom and pop” landlords — want to keep their tenants, and may only raise rent by a small amount. After all, it is “a burden for landlords to have to try to clear up a unit and find new tenants,” Beck says, so keeping increases reasonable may be an easier way to keep you.
While a landlord can raise your rent by any amount, there are limits on when they can raise it — and how much notice your landlord has to give you before the increase takes effect.
Unless the lease says otherwise, your landlord can only increase rent at the end of a lease term. So, for example, they can’t raise your rent six months into a yearlong lease, unless your lease specifically says otherwise.
And if your landlord is raising your rent, the Philadelphia Fair Housing Ordinance requires that they give you at least 60 days written notice if your lease is for at least one year. (If your lease is less than that, your landlord only has to give you 30 days notice.) Outside of Philly, it’s a little murkier: Pennsylvania doesn’t have any laws on this, though many leases will provide terms.
If you live in subsidized housing, rent may increase as your income does, Beck says. The Philadelphia Housing Authority, which administers public housing in the city, requires tenants to re-certify their income periodically, including every time it changes.
If your landlord has followed all the laws and properly informed you of a coming rent increase, you generally have three options, Beck says: You can accept the increase, reject it and plan to move out at the end of your lease, or negotiate for a lower rent increase.
“A landlord might be willing to meet the tenant in the middle somewhere in order to avoid having to find new tenants. Tenants can always negotiate,” she says. But if you go this route, it is important to get it in writing so that you have confirmation of what rent you will be responsible for under the lease.
If you and your landlord don’t come to an agreement, and the rent is higher than you’d like, you can either agree to pay the new price, or reject it and move out. If you decide to move, Philadelphia law requires you to give your landlord written notice within 30 days of receiving notice of a rent increase, if the lease is for one year or longer.
If your landlord tries to raise your rent in the middle of a lease term, or doesn’t give you proper notice of the increase, you should get in touch with your landlord first. Beck suggests documenting all communication, such as by sending an email or letter.
“A tenant could argue that the notice of rent increase is invalid because it doesn’t comply with the law,” she says. “The landlord does have the opportunity to say, ‘Oh, sorry about that. Let’s work out a rent increase that is legal.’”
If you do this and your landlord responds by threatening you, including with eviction, it could be considered retaliation, Beck says. If the situation reaches that point, you should file a complaint with the Fair Housing Commission. If you want legal advice first, you can contact the Philly Tenant Hotline at 267-443-2500, or CLS at 215-981-3700.
“There has to be some action by a tenant to assert their rights as a tenant, and retaliation by the landlord,” she adds. “If the Fair Housing Commission rules in favor of a tenant, they will also issue an order saying that the landlord is prohibited from filing an eviction for this issue for a period of time."
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.