Is The Certificate Of Rental Suitability A Prerequisite For A Landlord To Be Able To Collect Rent And Evict Tenants In Philadelphia?

Written by: Alan Nochumson

Last week, a judge in the Philadelphia Municipal Court summarily rejected an attempt made by tenants to dismiss a lawsuit brought against them for unpaid rent because of the alleged failure of the landlord's predecessor-in-interest to provide the tenants with a Certificate of Rental Suitability and other related documentation at the time the lease agreement was signed by the parties.

The City of Philadelphia has created a mechanicism for a landlord to obtain what is called a “Certificate of Rental Suitability”. In the Certificate, the landlord, among other things, represents that the landlord is duly licensed to do business in the City, the property is zoned in such a way which allows for the landlord to lease the property to third parties, and the leased property, in the landlord’s own estimation, is in fit and habitable condition and that the landlord will continue to maintain the property in such condition.

Unlike many other certifications and licenses issued by the City, no inspections of the property are performed by the City in connection with the issuance of the Certificate and the landlord is otherwise not obligated to retain duly licensed professionals to validate the condition of the leased premises prior to the issuance of the Certificate. Rather, this Certificate merely contains self-serving statements made by the landlord concerning the condition of the leased premises and the landlord’s obligations to the tenant under the law.

There appears to be a movement by attorneys representing tenants in the City to prevent a landlord from collecting rent and obtaining possession of leased premises even after a tenant defaults under the lease agreement if the landlord fails to obtain this self-serving Certificate.

While, last week, a Municipal Court judge rejected the tenants’ attempt to prevent the entry of a judgment on this basis alone, it is well-known that another Municipal Court judge apparently believes differently.

As a precautionary manner, I thus strongly recommend that, if you are a landlord leasing property in the City, you should obtain this Certificate in order to prevent any of your tenants from being able to make this dubious legal argument.

To apply on-line for the Certificate, click here.

Furthermore, in addition to providing the tenant with the Certificate at the time the lease agreement is signed by the parties, the landlord should also give the tenant the Partners for Good Housing brochure supplied by the City as part of the Certification process.

In order to establish that your tenants received the Certificate and brochure at the time the lease agreement was executed, the lease agreement should include an attestation from the tenant specifically acknowledging receipt of the Certificate and the brochure.