Do not pay rent to a landlord if the heat is inoperable or shut off.
We are now in the depths of heating season. All landlords in Philadelphia are required to provide a working means of heating your living space during October through April (May-September if the temps drop below 60F).
This batch of tenants have been trying to live in sub-20F temperatures until Thursday they finally had enough and started calling TV stations. PGW had shut off the gas to the building back in April when the landlord did not pay PGW $60,000 worth of gas. The rental building is owned by Emmanuel Freeman–the same dude who ran Germantown Settlement into the ground.
They could have had their heat back on a hell of a lot sooner if they had just stopped paying rent in October when heating season starts. Landlords suddenly get motivated to do things when the rent checks disappear.
You may pay for heat separately to PGW or it may be included with your rent. Regardless, if the heat is shut off because the landlord is responsible for paying the bill and hasn’t done so, or the furnace is not working and the landlord has yet to fix it the landlord is not entitled to your rent.
Sure, a landlord can threaten you with eviction. That threat won’t work. In Landlord-Tenant Court, no landlord can be allowed to proceed with their eviction case if they are not providing a means of heat to their tenant. Space heaters are not acceptable except during the period while the heating system is actively under repairs. If no attempt at a repair is being made, then no attempt at paying rent should be made.
What Should You Do
Call 311 immediately and report the no heat situation. These are priority calls. Someone will be sent out to measure the heat in your building. If it is below standards, the Landlord will be receiving a fine from the City of Philadelphia.
Prepare a written notice to your landlord via e-mail or US Mail (postcard or letter). Tell him this: “Hi [Landlord]. I am just writing to inform you that until the heating system is restored I will be withholding December/January rent in escrow in the amount of $XXXX.XX. The funds will be surrendered to you as soon as the heating system is restored. Thanks!”
Keep a copy of that notice.
You need to transfer your rent payment into an escrow account. So go to your bank and open a temporary savings account and transfer the money to there.
If you don’t have a savings account or you don’t have access to banking you can take out money orders made out to your landlord and hold on to them until he has complied.
Is the Heater Fixed? Pay The Rent Immediately
Don’t continue to withhold the rent for any other reason if the landlord fixes the heater. Withholding rent over damage disputes is a bit more of a pain in the ass, but stopping rent over no-heat is easy and you hold all the cards.
So the moment that heater is fixed you need to surrender the rent money.
What If My Landlord Threatens Me With Landlord-Tenant Court?
All threats are nothing until the landlord actually files for eviction for non-payment of rent. Until he actually does, ignore the threat.
The eviction process takes over a month and requires paper notices to be sent to you. When you get the notice there will be a court date to show up at Municipal Court. Attend the hearing.
Remember that I told you to keep a notice of withholding rent that you wrote to the landlord? Hang on to it. You need to show it to the judge. This tells the judge when you detected the problem and when you told the landlord there was a serious problem.
A court clerk will call your name at the time of the hearing. State “present” when your name is called. You will be asked to go into an arbitration room off to the side of the court room. You do not need to do this but you can if you want. Don’t settle for anything without the heat working. You can stand up anytime in the courtroom and tell the clerk that you’re “finished” with arbitration and would like to hear the case now. That’s when you inform the L&T judge about the lack of heat. No judge is going to grant the landlord’s request for unpaid rent when there is non-functioning heating in the building.