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Landlord-Tenant: Double Damages? Peanuts! Give me Triple!

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | October 13, 2008

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

As readers of earlier posts know, the Landlord and Tenant Act states that if the tenant provides a forwarding address and landlord keeps the security deposit and fails to give the tenant a list of damages in 30 days after the premises are delivered, the tenant may claim double damages.

However, there are circumstances when a Pennsylvania statute known as the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL” or “Consumer Protection Law”) [73 P.S. Sec. 203.1 et seq.] can yield triple damages, plus attorneys fees. The UTPCPL provides:

“Any person who purchases or leases goods or services primarily for personal, family or household purposes and thereby suffers any ascertainable loss of money or property, real or personal, as a result of the use or employment by any person of a method, act or practice declared unlawful by Section 3 of this Act, may bring a private action to recover actual damages or one hundred dolars ($100), whichever is greater.”

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the UTPCPL could be applied to apartment leasing a generation ago in Commonwealth v. Monumental Properties, Inc., 459 Pa. 450, 329 A.2d 812 (1974). That case was brought by the Attorney General against 25 landlords who used printed lease forms containing provisions which the Attorney General characterized as unfair and deceptive. Four printers and distributers of the documents were also named as defendants. The Supreme Court held that the Consumer Protection Law covers unfair or deceptive practices in connection of leasing of housing to consumers.

Then, in Zimmerman v. National Apartment Leasing Company, 108 Pa. Commw. 300, 529 A.2d 1157 (1987), the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court held that the Consumer Protection Law could be applied to allegations that a landlord had repeatedly charged tenants’ security deposits for cleaning services that were not necessary.

In 1999, the Superior Court applied the Consumer Protection Law when a landlord claimed a large and unjustified amount of damages. In Wallace v. Pastore, 1999 Pa. Super. 297, 742 A.2d 1090 (1999), the landlord argued that UTPCPL applied only in cases involving repeated or frequent action, as in Monumental Properties and National Apartment Leasing, while the case before the court involved only a single incident.

The Superior Court noted that “unfair and deceptive practices” under the UTPCPL included: “knowingly misrepresenting that services, replacements or repairs are needed if they are not needed.” There was no requirement in the statute that Plaintiff prove that this was a repeated practice, or that it could not be applied to a single isolated event. “In the present case,” the Superior Court wrote,”the trial court found that Pastore knowingly misrepresented to Wallace and Redante that they owed thousands of dollars in repairs and labor.” That finding alone established a violation of UTPCPL.

The Consumer Protection Law contains a series of specific factual circumstances when the statute may be applied, including through recent amendment, a “catch-all” provision: “engaging in any other fraudulent or deceptive conduct which creates a liklihood of confusion or of misunderstanding” (Sec. 201-2(4)(xxi). This provision, while expanding the scope of UTPCPL, is held by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to require strict proof of all of the elements of common law fraud. This in turn, creates a substantial burden of proof on the Plaintiff and has lead to the demise of numerous Consumer Protection Law cases based on the catch-all provision where one or more of the elements of common law fraud could not be proven.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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