Editor’s note: This article was originally published in April 2013 and has been updated with the most recent information.
Though it can seem like your landlord has all the bargaining power, that's not always true. As a tenant, you can notify the Department of Licenses & Inspections if your landlord doesn't provide a safe and habitable property. As always, dealing with bureaucracy (especially in Philly) is can be challenging and frustrating, but knowing what your rights are can give you leverage when you want your landlord to finally fix the sink.
As a tenant, you have the right to a safe environment and privacy. The City of Philadelphia is actually pretty specific about what that means—every tenant should receive a copy of this Partners for Good Housing manual from their landlords—which is great if you need to complain or learn more about your legal rights.
Here’s the gist of the very basics your landlord should provide, followed by your next action steps if those rights aren’t met.
Basic tenant rights
- A flush toilet in a room with a door
- A bathtub or shower in a private room—it has to be ventilated, too.
- A kitchen sink
- A safe gas or electric cooking range
- Running water and hot water
- Heat at 68 degrees minimum from October through April. If you have control of your own heat (i.e. a thermostat), the landlord is not required to keep the heat at 68 degrees minimum.
- Windows or a ventilation system in every room
- Two electrical outlets in every “habitable” room, which means rooms that you spend a lot of time in, aka not bathrooms, closets, or hallways.
- Lighting in all public hallways
- All repairs including roofs, walls, windows etc. have to actually do their job, and it is the landlord's job to maintain them.
- Landlords are responsible for extermination or vermin control before or after leasing. So if you’re a tenant and currently have a roach issue, it’s on you to get that sorted out.
- Functional doors and windows
- A lead paint certificate that assures you as a tenant that the property is lead safe, when the property was 1) built before 1978 and 2) Any new occupant is aged six years or less.
If, unfortunately, your rental doesn’t meet one or a number of these basic requirements, L&I first suggests reaching out to your landlord to address them. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to call 311 and report your complaint to the city. From there, L&I will make a visit to your rental and check things out. The inspector will keep the complainant (you) anonymous.
In the case that your landlord finds out that you made the complaint, you still have rights: Your landlord can’t retaliate by raising your rent, shutting off utilities, or attempting to kick you out by abruptly terminating your lease.
If that happens, reach out to the city’s Fair Housing Commission. They’re there to help you out if you feel that your rights as a tenant are being violated.