Pennsylvania law has many different rules surrounding breaking a lease agreement, especially when it comes to ending it before it expires.
Both landlords and tenants must follow the landlord-tenant laws in the state, as well as the terms for the rental lease, if they want to avoid any legal problems.
The following article will outline everything you should know about breaking a lease in Pennsylvania.
Providing Proper Notice
Tenants in Pennsylvania must give their landlord written notice if they want to end their lease agreement for any reason. Here's an overview of the periods they should consider:
- Monthly Leases - 15 days of notice.
- Leases That Last a Year or Less - 15 days of notice.
- Leases Without a Specified Period - 15 days of notice.
- Leases That Last Over a Year - 30 days of notice.
Landlords should specify their delivery method of preference for their notice. Typically, landlords choose either in-person deliveries or mail.
Not being able to serve the notice letter the right way can cause several penalties and/or consequences for the tenant.
Ending a Lease Early
Technically, every tenant can end their rental agreement before it expires. However, if they don't do it for a valid reason, they may have to keep paying rent until the lease expires or cover a penalty fee.
Here's a list of scenarios that may allow a tenant to break a lease for a rental property without having to keep making a rent payment until it expires:
Early Termination Clause
Many modern leases now include an "Early Lease Termination Clause," which outlines all the conditions that the tenant must meet to end the rental agreement without legal consequences.
Most of the time, landlords allow their tenants to break the lease in exchange for a penalty. The "Early Termination Clause" should clearly explain what those penalties are.
Those penalties often equal one or two months of rent, but in the end, the penalty will depend on what the landlord considers appropriate.
Finally, the "Early Termination Clause" can outline some scenarios where ending a lease early won't result in penalties.
Active Military Duty
Tenants protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) could be able to move out of the property before the lease expires. Overall, people entering active military duty get protected once they start their "duty," and the protection usually ends 30 to 90 days after they get discharged.
If the tenant breaks the lease under this argument, keep in mind they may only do it 30 days after the next rent period starts.
Tenants who want to break a rental agreement due to active military service must:
- Send written notice to their landlord.
- Attach a copy of the deployment/relocation orders.
- Prove they signed the lease before they entered duty.
- Prove they will be on active duty for at least 90 days.
Privacy Violations or Harassment
Some tenants in Pennsylvania can argue they're being harassed by their landlord. If they're able to prove the problem is severe, they may be able to avoid paying the entire lease term when they move out.
Two common scenarios that you should be aware of include:
Unreasonable Entry: Even though Pennsylvania doesn't state any specific notice requirements for landlords who want to enter their property, it's recommended to provide at least 24 hours of notice. Not being able to do this could give the tenant the ability to break the lease.
Changing Locks: Landlords in Pennsylvania aren't allowed to change the property's locks without the tenant's permission or consent. Doing this could make the tenant "constructively evicted."
Landlords in Pennsylvania must comply with certain health and safety codes if they want to avoid legal problems when they rent their property.
Tenants have the legal right to request repairs if they notice any considerable hazards inside the unit. If the landlord fails to provide repairs within a specified timeframe, the tenant may be able to end the lease without paying penalties.
In Pennsylvania, landlords must ensure that all the premises and common facilities are in safe and good working order. These premises include:
Yes, there are a few other reasons that may allow tenants to break the lease without having to pay rent. However, these arguments may need to get approved by a court of law; otherwise, the tenant may still have to pay the rent they owe.
Some of these common reasons to break a lease include:
- Using an illegal/unenforceable lease.
- Not being able to provide reasonable accommodations to people with a qualified disability.
- Violating the lease agreement repeatedly.
- Not being able to provide the tenant with mandatory disclosures.
Some states also protect tenants who are victims of stalking, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. However, they should check their local law to see what conditions apply to these cases.
These reasons for ending a lease are often considered "insufficient" on their own. Tenants who try to use these arguments to break their lease may still have to pay penalty fees:
- Upgrading/downgrading the property
- Buying a new house/property
- Relocating to a new school or job
- Criminal activity around the area
- Moving somewhere else to be closer to a family member, partner, or close friend
- Moving somewhere else because of a divorce or separation
In these cases, tenants may try to negotiate with their landlords to see if they can come up with a mutual termination agreement. Otherwise, they will still be liable for any owed rent.
Landlords in Pennsylvania can get compensated if a tenant tries to break their lease without a valid reason. To ensure you enforce the penalties the right way, you must include an "Early Termination Clause" that outlines all the conditions and consequences that come with breaking a lease before it expires.
Some landlords charge a penalty fee, others keep the tenant's security deposit, and others charge their tenant for the remaining rent. That money is often used to cover re-rental expenses, screening costs, and other related costs.
Finally, if the tenant refuses to pay rent or cover the penalty fees, the landlord may decide to sue them through a small claims court. However, this can be a lengthy and complex process, which is why it's always recommended to communicate with your tenant as clearly as possible to avoid these problems.
Tenants who want to leave the property without a valid reason may still be able to avoid paying too many fees. Some people help their landlord find a replacement tenant who's appropriate according to their standards.
Another thing that tenants can do to avoid paying too many fees is to give the landlord as much notice as possible explaining their reasons for leaving. In these cases, the landlord may accept a lower penalty (or no penalty at all).
In any case, including an "Early Lease Termination" clause will protect you much more efficiently if a tenant tries to break a lease.
Re-renting Their Property
Pennsylvania doesn't require landlords to "mitigate damages" by finding a new tenant once the old one breaks the lease.
If the landlord isn't able to find a suitable replacement for their property, the tenant will still be liable for any remaining rent they owe. As mentioned before, the best thing tenants can do in these cases is to negotiate with their landlord to see if they can come up with a mutual agreement.
Still, the landlord can decide to charge their tenant for the remaining balance of the lease term. First, you may keep the security deposit, and if its amount isn't enough, you may sue your tenant in a small claims court.
The limit for these courts in Pennsylvania is $12,000.
Subletting the Property
Tenants may be able to sublet the rental unit if they get permission from their landlord. To get the landlord's permission, the tenant may send a letter through certified mail with the request and the terms of the agreement.
The landlord can decide to approve or refuse the request. However, keep in mind you can only refuse subletting requests for valid and appropriate reasons.
On the other hand, if you want to allow subletting on your property, you can include a "Subletting Clause" in your lease that establishes all the conditions the tenant must meet if they want to do it.
Understanding Pennsylvania laws isn't as hard as many people make it to be. Having a great lease document will help you avoid most of the legal issues that may come up in the future.
Remember to include an "Early Termination Clause" in your lease to ensure you get protected accordingly if your tenant ever tries to break it before it expires.
DoorLoop hosted this webinar with attorney Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire from The Law Offices of Spadea & Associates, LLC to help answer many of your legal questions. Gregory specializes in real estate law and evictions in Pennsylvania and we covered:
- Landlord-tenant issues and laws
- Grounds to evict a tenant
- Eviction process
- Preventing delays or fines
- Hiring an Attorney vs DIY
- Post COVID legal changes
Feel free to learn more and watch this webinar for free.
What Happens If a Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent After an Early Lease Termination?
The landlord may file a lawsuit with a small claims court. Moreover, the tenant risks getting a lower credit score and bad references from their landlord, which will affect them the next time they want to find a new place to rent.
How Can Landlords Prevent Tenants from Breaking the Lease Early?
They should include an "Early Termination Clause" in the lease that explains when and how tenants can break their agreement before it expires.
Moreover, an appropriate thing for landlords to do is to communicate with their tenants to ensure that all their needs are met.
Can Tenants Break a Lease Without Paying Penalties?
Yes, tenants can break a lease with little to no penalties, as long as they meet one of the conditions explained above or negotiate with their landlord.
What Happens If the Tenant Fails to Comply with the Lease's Terms?
The landlord may serve them an eviction notice. If the tenant fails or refuses to comply with the eviction, they risk getting sued.
- Tenant & Property Manager Rights Webinar with attorney Gregory J. Spadea, Esquire
- Pennsylvania Eviction Laws: The Process & Timeline In 2023
- Pennsylvania Security Deposit Laws | Deductions & Rights
- Pennsylvania Squatter's Rights & Adverse Possession Laws
- 68 Pa. Stat. § 250.501
- 68 Pa. Stat. § 250.502-A
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA)