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ALERT: Changes to the Pennsylvania Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 Regarding the Death of a Tenant

January 18, 2017

Governor Wolf recently signed a bill (2016, P.L. 968, No. 116) making an amendment to the Landlord and Tenant Act of 1951 (68 P.S. § 250.101, et seq.), which will now provide that upon the death of the sole tenant of a residential unit, the decedent’s estate will have an option to terminate the lease as set forth below.  Previously, Pennsylvania law treated residential leases similarly to all contracts, and  upon the death of a tenant, the decedent’s estate was liable for the remainder of the lease term unless specific provisions were included in the lease to the contrary.  This new provision became effective on January 1, 2017 and applies only to leases made or extended after the effective date.  The pertinent text of the new provision is as follows: 
“Section 514.  Death of Tenant.—
(a)  Notwithstanding any other provision of this act or law, and if the deceased tenant is the sole tenant of the residential unit, the executor or administrator of the estate of a tenant who dies during the term of a residential lease shall have the option to terminate the lease upon fourteen days' written notice to the landlord on the later of:
(1)  the last day of the second calendar month that follows the calendar month in which the tenant died; or
(2)  upon surrender of the rental unit and removal of all of the tenant's personal property.
(b)  Nothing under this section shall be construed to relieve the tenant's estate of liability for rent money or any other debt incurred prior to the date of termination of the lease, including damages to the premises and any expenses the landlord may incur as a direct result of the tenant's death, except that the tenant's estate shall not be liable for damages or any other penalty for breach or inadequate notice as a result of terminating a lease under subsection (a).
Section 2.  The addition of section 514 of the act shall apply to leases entered into or extended on or after the effective date of this section.
Notably, the new provisions not only give the executor or administrator of the decedent’s estate an option to terminate the lease if the proper notice procedure is followed, but the statute specifically prohibits landlords from imposing an early termination fee or other charges as a result of exercising the option to terminate.  See Section 514(b).  
Landlords should be aware of these new tenants’ rights as applicable circumstances will begin to arise for leases executed or extended in 2017.  

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