The front door of a house on the 1900 block of North Fifth Street was broken for six days. Mark Calloway, a junior mechanical engineer major and tenant of the residence, knew a timely response from his landlord concerning this issue was unlikely.
“It takes her way long to respond. The top lock never worked, and the bottom lock was broken one day, and we couldn’t lock the door,” Calloway said. “I call with my problems and try to make them sound as [important] as they are. With the door, I tried to communicate to her that it was a security issue.”
The challenges of becoming a first-time renter like Calloway have affected some other upperclassmen who are no longer eligible for on-campus housing. Calloway said his landlord fails to administer daily upkeep and maintenance of common areas, appliances and other items within the property. Calloway shares his unit with two other roommates.
According to Pennsylvania’s Landlord and Tenant Act, landlords are lawfully responsible for performing reasonable care for safety and maintenance of common facilities of a property.
“There were some things when we first saw the house that she promised to do upon us agreeing to move in and paying our security deposit,” Calloway said. “That’s why she was so demanding with our security deposit because she needed the money to do those things, which is technically against the law because as a landlord, you are supposed to have the money to fix your property, not to be dependent on tenants’ security deposits.”
In fact, a security deposit is money that actually belongs to the tenant but is held by the landlord for protection against damages or
unpaid rent. Interest is required to be paid on security deposits held more than two years. During the first year of a lease, the amount of a security deposit cannot exceed two months’ rent.
Calloway said there are grievances on the lease agreement from August 2007 that have not been addressed.
“She was supposed to fix two tiles that are messed up at the beginning of our basement. They’re not even connected to the floor,” he said.
A list of damages to the house was cited in Calloway’s lease, which his landlord failed to collect after it was signed.
“She was in the process of moving in the summer when we mailed her our lease because we are out-of-state students. She didn’t pick up her mail from the post office, and they ended up returning it to us. She doesn’t have proof of the lease to hold us if we decided to move,” Calloway said.
Junior psychology major Billy Joe Michel said her landlord never provided a lease for her to sign.
When she moved into her apartment on the 1900 block of Diamond Street, only two of the three rooms were available.
“When we first moved in, he promised us stuff, but he didn’t do it. My roommate’s room had mold all over the wall, and he was supposed to put up a closet and shelves into her room, but he didn’t do it until three months after we moved in,” Michel said. “He showed up at one o’clock in the morning to put the closet up.”
Michel said her landlord often entered the apartment unannounced after lawful business hours.
“I went to the police regarding his trespassing,” Michel said. “Landlords can’t come in after business hours unannounced unless they are invited in.”
Assuring that a landlord or property manager is readily available during nights and weekends for emergency procedures is an important consideration for many tenants.
“Our landlord moved to New Jersey, which is why her availability isn’t convenient. Finding a landlord near the area would be helpful,” Calloway said. “She doesn’t show us any attention during the week.”
Michel’s landlord could not be contacted by phone for more than a month regarding complaints about plumbing issues.
“One day I woke up, and the ceiling was leaking. Our shower would not drain. [The landlord] would request rent to be made, but up until the day we left, those complaints were never addressed,” Michel said.
She currently lives on the 1800 block of Diamond Street.
When her previous landlord attempted to repair damages caused by plumbing, she said he would hire people that did not speak English and were not qualified contractors.
According to section P-105 of the Building Construction and Occupancy Code of the City of Philadelphia, a license is required by anyone installing plumbing, water drain or waste piping, and fixtures. The section also noted no person shall hire an unlicensed individual to perform plumbing work.
Any person who has had plumbing work performed by an unlicensed person must have a registered master plumber inspect and, if necessary, redo the work. Permits must be secured for the inspection activity and for any additional plumbing work as a result of the inspection.
“When we returned from winter break, there was a hole in our ceiling. The toilet upstairs had been leaking and the floor is at an angle so the water collected near the toilet and seeped down and made our ceiling wet, and then our ceiling came crumbling down,” Calloway said.
Hardy Real Estate broker Bill Hardy oversees the management of 55 units in North Philadelphia. Approximately 30 Temple students reside in the units. Hardy said it is essential to provide decent buildings to tenants looking for apartments of quality.
“Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. If the lease says the landlord is going to repair something, then they should do it. If it’s not done, students should look elsewhere,” Hardy said.
Hardy warns students to notify landlords immediately regarding defects in their rental property.
“Don’t sit there and allow people to take advantage of you,” he said. “Give the proper notice, because if you stay you’re going to have to pay.”
Understanding the rights as a consumer and a tenant are valuable when selecting rental properties for the first time.
“We wanted a place so bad, we didn’t care,” Michel said. “We should have known from the beginning, but [our landlord] sounded so good. He made us promises and had so much time to do it we were like, ‘Let’s just live here.’”
Students living off-campus are encouraged to ask for qualifications, licenses and maintenance responsibilities.
“It seems like the closer you get to campus, the more outrageous the prices are because [landlords] know kids from the suburbs,” Calloway said. “Parents will pay for them to only have to walk a block away from campus, even though the house is some crap.”
Brittany Diggs can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.