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Breaking a Lease in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - Know the Laws

As a landlord in Pennsylvania, it’s important that you understand the local landlord tenant laws, real estate law, and federal law, including the Fair Housing Act. It's important to know the rules and regulations when it comes to tenants breaking a lease early. Note that you or a tenant ending the tenancy before the rental lease expires is not the same as evicting a tenant.

In this article, we will cover unjustified and justified reasons for terminating of a lease early in Pennsylvania, so that you will be well informed on your rights as well as your tenants’ rights when it comes to this aspect of Pennsylvania landlord-tenant law.

Lease Agreements in Pennsylvania

Having a solid rental agreement is very important. When your tenant signs their lease, it is your responsibility as a landlord to make sure that they are aware of the consequences for unjustifiably breaking a lease, and that they are aware of their rights for justifiably breaking a lease.

If there is an early lease termination clause, make sure that your tenants are aware of it as well as the termination notice requirements.

Your Pennsylvania rental agreement should also include how much notice a tenant must give you when ending their periodic lease.

According to Pennsylvania law, your tenant must provide their landlord notice before prematurely vacating your property. This means 15 days’ notice if they pay rent monthly, for a year or less, and for an undetermined amount of time. They must give you 30 days’ notice if they're paying rent on property for more than a year.

Rows of documents

It is not the landlord's duty by Pennsylvania law to find a qualified replacement tenant, or to make reasonable steps to re-rent the apartment or rental unit when a tenant breaks their lease. They also aren't required to "mitigate damages" by collecting the total remaining rent from someone else.

Finally, a solid lease agreement should include the tenant’s rights to sublet their rental unit in Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, subletting is not prohibited, so you have to explicitly include a clause in the rental agreement saying otherwise or outlining that you require your tenants to get your approval first before subletting the rental property.

To request your approval for a sublet, the tenant should formally make the request and send it by certified mail. The request letter must include the following pieces of information:

  • Name of the proposed subtenant.
  • Permanent home address of the proposed new tenant.
  • The reason for subletting or leaving permanently.
  • Tenant’s new address during the sublease, if applicable.
  • Written consent of any co-tenant, if applicable.
  • The terms of the sublease.
  • A copy of the proposed sublease.

As a landlord, you have the right to reject the request based on legitimate factors, otherwise, you might be unreasonably refusing the sublet and could possibly violate fair housing laws.

Unjustified Reasons to Break a Lease

The below reasons are generally not enough justification on their own to release a tenant from the lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

Family of three packing moving boxes together

Since a lease or rental agreement is a legally binding contract, tenants are expected to fulfill the terms of the contract for the entire lease term or until they reach an amicable agreement with you.

  • The tenant bought a house.
  • The tenant is relocating for a new job or school.
  • The tenant is moving in with a partner.
  • The tenant is moving from the property to be closer to family.

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons without court approval or under any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants. If a tenant would like to break their lease for any of these reasons, the tenant should ask the landlord to agree to a mutual agreement.

Justified Reasons to Break a Lease

As a landlord in Pennsylvania, you must also know the justified reasons for a tenant to move out prematurely. This means they'll be able to end their tenancy without legal consequences. Below, you will find legally justified reasons for the early ending of a lease that extend beyond simply having an early lease breaking clause in your lease.

Active Military Duty

It is considered legally justified to terminate a lease prematurely if your tenant is starting active military duty or has recieved a permanent change of station after signing a lease with you. Tenants entering active military service are protected by the Servicemember Civil Relief Act or SCRA.

To break the lease agreement early, the tenant must give you written notice along with a copy of their active duty orders. The notice must be given at least 30 days before the projected end date. The tenant must also have proof that they signed the lease prior to being enlisted.

Once the notice is provided, you can break the lease, and the tenant’s lease responsibilities will end 30 days after the next rent payment is due.

Military member in fatigues and a black beret standing in front of an American flag

It is also important to note that the SCRA protection won’t apply if your tenant signed the lease after receiving their permanent change of station or deployment or if the lease is with the government itself. Consequently, your tenant may still be responsible for any remaining rent payment or other applicable fees owed for the entire lease period.

Domestic Violence

In Pennsylvania, domestic abuse or violence victims can legally terminate a lease agreement early. However, it will not always be automatic and must be determined by a court.

Your tenant may terminate the rental agreement if they are a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault according to the Protection from Abuse Act (PFA).

Through this act, your tenant can obtain a court order that highlights stipulations on the victim's safety that may include prohibiting the abuser from contacting or approaching the victim within a specified distance.

To terminate the lease agreement, your tenant must provide you with a written notice along with the PFA order and a statement that they are terminating their lease agreement because of domestic violence.

Landlord Harassment

As a Pennsylvania landlord, you must respect your tenants’ right to quiet enjoyment. It is their right to enjoy their rented property without interference from the landlord or other people during the tenancy.

A real estate agent and potential homebuyer inside of a modern kitchen

Pennsylvania laws state that it is considered reasonable to end the rental agreement if the landlord fails to respect tenant rights or engages in landlord harassment or discrimination. This also applies if the landlord repeatedly violates fair housing laws.

While there is no mandate under any landlord tenant laws in Pennsylvania on the amount of notice a landlord must provide, it is recommended to give 24 hours' notice before visiting the rental property.

Conclusion

Now you are well-versed when it comes to breaking a lease in Pennsylvania. If you have any questions, please reach out to the team at TrustArt Realty!

We are a leading property management company in Philadelphia and have worked with landlords and investors in the area for many years. We’d love to work with you, too!

Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your rental property management needs.

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