Despite your tenant’s good intentions to stay for the entire term of the lease, they may need to break their lease. Normally, breaking a lease is a serious violation that attracts penalties.
However, according to Pennsylvania law, there are some reasons that can allow a tenant to break their lease without penalty. Here’s everything you need to know about breaking a lease in Pennsylvania.
Renter’s Rights & Responsibilities when Signing a Lease in Pennsylvania
The lease gives your tenant certain rights and responsibilities. If a landlord fails to uphold a tenant’s rights this could present them with the ability to break the lease early without penalty. Some rights tenants have include:
- The right to live in a home that meets the minimum safety and health standards. Pennsylvania requires landlords to abide by the Implied Warranty of Habitability. Among other things, this means ensuring your tenant has running, drinkable water, and hot water, and is living in a weatherproofed home.
- The right to live in privacy. Entering your tenant’s unit repeatedly and without notice may be considered landlord harassment.
Instances when Breaking a Lease is Legally Justified
As a landlord in Pennsylvania, you must not penalize your tenant for breaking their lease due to any of the following reasons:
If there is an Early Termination Clause in Place
Having an early termination clause gives your tenant the right to break their lease agreement early if they follow the requirements. Generally speaking, the clause usually requires a tenant to meet the following two requirements:
- Pay a penalty fee, which is typically equivalent to the rent for two months. You may then use the funds to make the unit rent-ready, as well as run a marketing campaign to find a new tenant.
- Provide a 30 days notice. This should help you to find a replacement tenant.
If the Tenant is Starting an Active Military Duty
This is made possible by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act. The act gives tenants who are either deployed or relocated due to military service a right to break their lease.
The state of Pennsylvania defines a servicemember as one who is a member of the:
- Commissioned corps of the Public Health Service
- Armed Forces
- Activated National Guard
- Commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The tenant starting active duty must meet certain requirements before they can break from the lease without penalty. They must:
- Show proof that they will stay in military service for 90 days or more.
- Show proof that they signed the lease prior to starting active duty.
- Notify their landlord of their intentions to break the lease, as well as accompany the written notice with letters from their commanding officer.
That said, the lease doesn’t end right away. The earliest a lease can end is 30 days following the next rental period’s start date. Suppose, for instance, your tenant delivered the notice on the 13th of April. If rent becomes due on the 1st of every month, then the earliest their lease can end will be June 1st, meaning they will still be liable for paying rent for the month of May.
If the Unit is no Longer Habitable
Pennsylvania sets specific safety and health codes that landlords must meet when renting out their properties. At a minimum, that means providing a unit that has things such as:
- Safe-to-drink running water
- Hot water during the cold season
- Pest-free premises
- Well-maintained stairways and railings
- Properly functioning door and windows
- Reasonable protection from criminal intrusion
- Weatherproofed walls and roofs
- A properly working electrical and plumbing system
If you fail in this responsibility, especially after repeated requests from your tenant to fix issues, your unit will be deemed uninhabitable. And since you’ll have failed in your maintenance responsibilities, your tenant, will have no further responsibilities to the lease.
If an Action Amounts to Landlord Harassment
Regardless of what your Pennsylvania tenant has done, harassment of any kind is never justified. It’s illegal and can result in various forms of legal actions being taken against you. A court may impose a penalty. This fine can go up if you have a history of harassing your tenants.
To guard your reputation and avoid legal issues, you’ll want to avoid any of the following behaviors:
- Refusing to make a repair after being notified by your tenant
- Falsifying charges against your tenant to evict them from your rental home
- Retaliating against your tenant for exercising any of their rights, such as joining a tenants’ union to advocate for their rights
- Making sexual advances to your tenant
- Coercing, threatening, or intimidating your tenant either through a phone call or in-person
- Making an unreasonable rent increase without proper justification or notice
- Refusing to take or acknowledge a rent payment
- If you make repeated entries to your tenant’s unit without serving them an advance notice
Instances When You Can Penalize a Tenant for Breaking the Lease in Pennsylvania
You can penalize your Pennsylvania tenant for doing any of the following. Breaking the lease to:
- Move into the new home they bought
- Relocate in order to upgrade or downgrade
- Move-in with a partner
- Move to be closer to friends and family
Landlord’s Duty to Find a New Tenant in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania laws don’t require you to “mitigate damages.” That is, to make a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit after the tenant breaks the lease. The only exception is if the lease requires you to.
As a landlord, it’s important that you understand the legally justified reasons for breaking a lease. You should also stay informed of landlord-tenant laws in the state, security deposit laws, squatter’s rights, and more.
If you would like help managing your rentals contact the experts at Keyrenter Property Management BuxMont today!
Disclaimer: This information isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. Also, laws can change and this information may not be updated at the time you read it. For expert legal advice, please get in touch with a licensed attorney.