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TENANT-LANDLORD HANDBOOK

III. Municipal Housing Codes


A. WHAT IS A HOUSING CODE?

Housing Codes, enacted and enforced by local government, sets minimum standards for all dwelling units. For example: the provision of sate potable water, proper waste disposal, bath and kitchen facilities, heating systems, floors, walls, ceilings, windows and doors in acceptable condition and tight roof.

B. HARRISBURG HOUSING CODE

The City of Harrisburg has enacted a Housing Code which establishes minimum standards for every building used as a residence. These minimums are used to insure that every residence is safe and sanitary.

Some of the requirements of the Housing Code set out that the owner (landlord) of the property must:

  1. Provide heat between October 1st and May 15th at a minimum of 65 between 6:30 AM and 10:30 PM; 60 during the night and when the temperature is below 0 unless otherwise provided by lease.

  2. Provide hot and cold water;

  3. Provide a roof which does not leak;

  4. Keep the floors, stairs, porches, handrails, windows, screens, and doors in good repair; and

  5. Exterminate insects and rodents, except where the insects and rodents are in only one dwelling unit.

Tenants also have responsibilities under the Housing Code. For example, the tenants must dispose of trash in a clean and sanitary manner.

C. HOW DO YOU REPORT A HOUSING CODE VIOLATION AND GET ASSISTANCE?

The tenant should report all housing code violations to his/her local government code enforcement agency and request that an inspection be made. All local government units in Pennsylvania are authorized under appropriate legislation to enact and enforce Housing Codes. (The Borough Code, Section 1207, Para. 26 provides for the enactment and enforcement of ordinances relating to the Buildings and Housing).

In the City of Harrisburg when a tenant or landlord suspects any housing code violations, s/he should call the Housing Code Office in City Hall (255-6552). the Housing Code Office will set a date and a time to inspect the house or apartment. The inspector will look for any and all Housing Code violations that exist in the house or apartment.

The purpose of the inspection is to review the complaint made to the Housing Code Office. The tenant should go through the whole house or apartment with the inspector and point out any problems that exist in the house, no matter how little the problem seems. An insignificant problem may be only the beginning of a more hazardous and dangerous condition.

If the building being inspected is an apartment building, the tenant may want to notify the other tenants in the building so that the whole building can be inspected at one time.

D. WHAT HAPPENS ONCE A VIOLATION HAS BEEN FOUND?

Whenever a landlord or tenant is found to be in violation of the Housing Code, the violation is recorded and notice is sent to the landlord. The landlord or person responsible is given a reasonable time to make repairs or correct the violation. The Housing Code Office of City Hall will make a reinspection to see if the violation has been corrected. The re-inspection will usually take place within one month after the original inspection.

If the violation has not been corrected within a reasonable time, the City may then sue the person responsible before a District Justice The landlord or person responsible can be fined up to Three Hundred ($300.00) Dollars per day for each day the violation exists. The house or apartment may also be put on rent withholding.

E. WHAT IS RENT WITHHOLDING AND HOW DOES IT WORK?

The City of Harrisburg has a law called Rent Withholding that states when a tenant's house or apartment is declared unfit for human habitation by the Housing Code Office of City Hall, the tenant may pay rent into an escrow account until the landlord makes necessary repairs. The escrow account is a special bank account and is set up by the Housing Code Office at City Hall. Instead of paying rent to the landlord, the money is paid to City Hall and put in this escrow account.

The purpose of Rent Withholding is not to avoid the paying of rent. It is to get the building repaired.

The tenant can stay on Rent Withholding for a period of six (6) months or until the house or apartment is declared to be fit after the landlord has made the necessary repairs. If the repairs are not made during the six (6) month period, the tenant may go on Rent Withholding for a continuing six (6) month period. At the end of any six (6) month period during which the house has not been made fit, the tenant will get back all the money remaining in the escrow account minus any money that was spent on utilities or repairs. The tenant cannot be evicted while on rent withholding.

To put a house or apartment on Rent Withholding, the following must happen:

  1. An inspection of the house or apartment must be made by the Housing Code Office of City Hall (255-6552).

  2. A copy of the inspection results and a notice of number of points assigned to each Housing Code violation must be sent to the tenant and the landlord.

  3. The house or apartment must be declared unfit by the Housing Code Office and certified to go on Rent Withholding. A house or apartment is declared unfit because of the existence of a hazardous condition or because it brought a total of twenty (20) or more points from the Rent Withholding evaluation form (see Rent Withholding Evaluation [image]).

  4. The tenant must notify City Hall in writing that s/he wishes to be placed on Rent Withholding.

A landlord or tenant who disagrees with any action of the Housing Code Office has the right to appeal the decision to the Housing Code Board of Appeals. The appeal must be filed within fifteen (15) days of the receipt of the notice which is being appealed. Appeal forms may be included in the packet of materials mailed to the landlord or tenant. If there is no appeal form, the landlord or tenant should go to the Housing Code Office at City Hall immediately to file the appeal.

While the tenant is on Rent Withholding, rent must be paid into an escrow account at City Hall. The tenant must continue to pay rent into the escrow account. If the tenant fails to pay the money into the escrow account each time the rent is due, the tenant loses the benefit of Rent Withholding and must again begin to pay rent directly to the landlord and is possibly again subject to eviction.

After the tenant begins paying the rent into the escrow account, the money may be used for repairs to the house or apartment. The tenant, the landlord, or the City Housing Code Office may arrange for repairs to be made and paid for from the money in the escrow account. Before any funds can be paid out of the escrow account, the Housing Code Office must approve the repairs. The Housing Code Office will give notice to the landlord and tenant before any money is paid from the account so that the landlord or tenant may appeal this decision if s/he disagrees with it. The money in the escrow account can be used only for repairs necessary to correct the Housing Code violations and to pay for utilities which the landlord is obligated to provide but refuses or fails to provide.

If the house or apartment is brought up to Housing Code standards within the six-month period, the landlord is entitled to all the money remaining in the escrow account. However, if the house or apartment is not brought up to Housing Code standards at the end of the six months, the tenant will get back the money in the escrow account minus any money used for repairs or to pay utilities. The tenant may then apply for and be recertified for another six-month period on Rent Withholding.

Once the house or apartment is repaired and made fit, the landlord cannot change any part of the lease, including the amount of rent, without giving the tenant six (6) months written notice. Of course, the tenant must abide by the terms of the old lease during that time.

F. NUISANCE COMPLAINTS

What is a Nuisance Complaint?

These are generally neighbor problems, such as weeds and littering, failure to maintain exterior premises, dilapidated houses and buildings, rat and vermin harborage, junk accumulation, excessive noise, etc. Nuisance conditions all fall under the category of Health and Safety Hazards.

How to Report a Nuisance Condition and Get Assistance

The tenant or landlord should report nuisance conditions (Health and Safety Hazards) to the local government. Pennsylvania law for boroughs and townships provides for enactment and enforcement of ordinances regulating Health and Safety Hazards. (For Boroughs - Section 1201 of the Boro Code, and for Second Class Townships, Section 702 Para. XII of the Second Class Township Code).