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Termination of Leases and Evictions
When tenants and landlords enter into a lease, there is an underlying presumption that, at some point in the future, the relationship will end either through termination of the lease or some less amicable way, such as an eviction. If you are involved in a lease termination or eviction, discussing your options with an experienced real estate law attorney at Kenneth L. Baritz & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA, can help make sense of your rights and obligations.
Get it in writing
A rental agreement or lease should always be in writing. The document, no matter how long, should contain information on the amount of rent due, the due date for rent, the date the lease expires, and the general rights and obligations of the parties such as how many individuals may live at the property, whether pets are allowed, and who pays for basic utilities.
In addition to the basics mentioned above, a good rental document will also comply with both federal and state legal requirements. These may include passages on anti-discrimination laws, disclosures about the condition or age of the property, information on health and safety codes, statements concerning the payment and eventual return of a security deposit, and, importantly, provisions on termination of the agreement.
When, and whether, a rental relationship can be terminated depends in large part upon whether a month-to-month rental agreement is involved or whether the parties have a regular lease. In most situations either party may terminate a rental agreement by providing proper written notice within a set time frame (usually 30 days). A lease, on the other hand, can generally only be terminated at the end of its life (usually six months to one year) or for a specific, and significant, violation on the part of either the landlord or tenant.
For example, if a landlord fails to make necessary repairs a tenant may eventually be entitled to break a lease. When a tenant breaks a lease without good cause they may be liable for the remaining rent due under the lease. However, a landlord is still usually required to use reasonable efforts to find a new renter for the property, thereby limiting the financial responsibility of the former tenant.
A landlord is also entitled to legally terminate a lease and take steps to evict a holdover tenant, if a tenant fails to uphold their end of the agreement, such as by failing to pay rent, unlawfully subletting the property, or engaging illegal activities at the property.
Eviction is the forced removal of a person and their personal property from a rental unit. A landlord may not legally evict a tenant until they have gone to court and proven that the tenant violated a term of the rental agreement or lease and deserves to be evicted. Even before commencing eviction proceedings (sometimes referred to as "unlawful detainer" actions) a landlord must first comply with state laws governing notice of termination of a rental agreement or lease. These state laws usually require that the notice be in writing and be served upon the tenant.
State laws vary concerning what the notice must contain, when it must be served, and what rights the tenant has to correct the problem (such as paying back rent or stopping an unapproved activity) before the relationship is officially terminated. In some serious situations, such as the continual late payment of rent or the commission of illegal activities like prostitution or drug dealing on or near the property, a landlord may have the right to terminate a lease without allowing any time for the tenant to "cure" the problem or stop the illegal activity.
Once a landlord is given the legal go-ahead to evict a tenant, they are then generally required to obtain the services of the local sheriff or marshal. The sheriff or marshal usually serves an eviction notice on a tenant, telling them that if they are not gone in a certain period of time they will be physically removed from the property.
Landlords sometimes try to cut corners in an eviction process with illegal "self-help" evictions. These types of evictions may include instances of verbal threats against the tenant, shut-off of utilities in the hopes they will vacate, or the changing of locks. Any of these methods can lead to increased legal trouble for a landlord and should be avoided no matter how frustrating the situation with a particular tenant.
Speak to a landlord-tenant lawyer
An attorney experienced in real estate law can help a landlord or tenant determine whether a lease or rental agreement has been legally terminated and whether a tenant may be evicted. If you are in such a situation, contact the real estate attorneys at Kenneth L. Baritz & Associates, P.C. in Philadelphia, PA, now.
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