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Does a landlord have to evict a tenant from one apartment if their guests have endangered the lives of everybody else in the building?

Asked by user in Pennsylvania.

We've had this clinically crazy tenant moving across the hall probably 6 months ago and we knew something was off with her from the start. She's stolen mail and packages from us already and tried to get into our apartment thinking we weren't home. A police report was made for the stolen packages, but they were only notified when she tried to come in through our door thinking we weren't home.

Recently, some of her friends have become her enemies. The other night around 4 in the morning, somebody came over, snuck up her balcony that's connected to our kitchen, poured gasoline all over, and started a big fire in front of her door. Luckily, the other tenant smelled it right away and was able to put it out on her own. If she hadnt caught it, it would have blocked the exit for me and my mother and wed have had no way out. The tenant was on crack that night as usual so she waited 12 hours to notify the police and the fire department. The weekend before, there were actually four gunshots out front. The police showed up and couldn't find the bullet holes anywhere in our area of the block. We live in connected row homes so there's tons of houses in the general area. So we didn't think much of it until today when we saw the bullet holes in the front of the house. We have the front of the house and this woman is on the side. There's no way to prove the bullet holes are because of her but we know.

From my understanding, no arrests have been made for the arson attempt or anything else. This neighbors presence endangers the lives of everyone in this building. Sadly, I'm sure my landlord only cares more about her $500 rent check every month than her tenants lives. I understand we always have the option to move but things aren't that easy especially in today's economic climate. What are my rights as a tenant when something like this is going on?

Answered by Enjuris Editors:

I'm very sorry you're dealing with this. Everyone has a right to live peacefully in their home and to feel safe and secure. Your landlord does have a responsibility to protect you from foreseeable harm. It's their duty to maintain a safe, healthy, and hazard-free living environment.

There are a few options, here. You'd be justified in asking your landlord if your neighbor can be evicted, though that might be tricky. Governor Wolf signed an executive order in July that prohibits evictions because of COVID-19. There might be loopholes if it's based on criminal activity and not failure to pay rent, but there are also local laws related to pandemic evictions. For example, the cities of Harrisburg and Philadelphia have orders in place that no evictions may proceed for tenants living within city limits.

If the neighbor stays, you might also inquire to your landlord about increased security measures for your home. For example, you might ask for additional fire alarms, bulletproof window coverings, additional door locks or property fences, or other enhancements that would either prevent or deter the kinds of events you mention in your question. It's essential that you maintain a record each time you communicate with your landlord on this issue. You also need to be providing notice of poor conditions to your landlord in writing. The more you can communicate through letters, email, or even a text, the better. This will serve as proof that the landlord was on notice about the safety issues. Also, be sure that you keep a copy of all correspondence.

Since almost everything you've mentioned sounds like there are crimes being committed, the best course of action might be for you to call your local law enforcement for help. Certainly, if you become aware that a crime is in the process of being committed (like starting a fire), has been committed, or is about to happen, you should call the police right away. You said that you're not sure that law enforcement can link the incidents so far to this neighbor, but if you call the police right away, that will help. The less time that passes between a crime and police being notified, the greater chance that they can catch the perpetrator. Whether or not they can link it to your neighbor in a way that makes her criminally responsible, it would still help for them to impose penalties on the individuals who are committing the crimes.

Finally, if you need additional guidance, you can contact a landlord/tenant lawyer in your area. If you decide that you have the ability to move and need to be let out of your lease or if you need help communicating your concerns to your landlord, a lawyer can help. The Pennsylvania bar association or your county bar might be able to assist you in finding low- or no cost resources. Best of luck!

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