Signing a lease on a new apartment is a voluntary decision. Death, in many cases, is not.
For that reason, the state House is taking up a measure that would prohibit the estates of deceased tenants from being held liable for remaining months on their leases.
Under the bill, House Bill 1218, estates wouldn't be liable for rent accruing from either 30 days from the time of a tenant's death or upon the surrender of the rental unit and removal of all personal property, whichever is the later.
The bill unanimously passed out of the House Urban Affairs Committee on Oct. 15, with support from Rep. Keith Gillespie, R-Springettsbury Township, who chairs the committee, and Rep. Kevin Schreiber, D-York City.
It's expected to go for a vote before the whole House, which already passed the bill under a different number last year. The Senate failed to take up the issue by the end of its session.
Saylor proposal: Majority Whip Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township, proposed the legislation.
He said he was made aware of a couple of constituents who had lost loved ones who were in the middle of leases with landlords.
"What happened was a person passed away and they had a lease, and the family cleaned out the apartment but the landlords demanded payment for the rest of the lease, the full nine months left on the lease," Saylor said.
"I just thought this was ridiculous. It's not like he or she broke the lease. They died, and sometimes that can't be avoided.
Under the legislation, the estate must contact the landlord and clean out the apartment. The estate would be liable for at least one month of the lease payment, even if the apartment is cleared immediately. The estate could choose to take longer to clean out the property, but they would have to continue paying the rent until the unit was empty.
The estate would be subject to the same security deposit rules as the tenant, with the estate receiving the deposit if the place is returned in the order it was rented, Saylor said.
Current law doesn't specify who would be liable or for how long, he said, so the legislation provides answers that aren't given under existing statute, he said. For that reason, it also protects the landlord, he said.
There are landlords who immediately absolve the tenant's estate of the responsibility for the remaining time on the lease, but others make estates pay the remaining balance even if the apartment has been emptied. Some collect money twice, because they make the estates pay and then rent the vacant apartment to a new tenant for the remaining portion of the lease, he said.
'Common sense': Gillespie said the bill "just makes common sense."
"If the tenant has expired, he's not going to be using the facility any longer, so why should he be responsible for something after he dies?" he said.
Schreiber said the landlord should also appreciate the guidelines spelled out in the legislation, as it could help him or her get the apartment back on the market and resolve the vacancy.
It's also better for the families, he said.
"I think, setting aside the emotional trauma that a family is going through when a loved one passes away, the sooner they can get that resolved without allowing it to drag on, the better it is," he said.
Rita Dallago is executive director of the Pennsylvania Residential Owners Association Inc., an association of landlords.
She said the organization isn't opposed to the legislation and finds the terms reasonable.
"It's usually good to have the rules, so to speak, that are to be used throughout the state; that way we're all doing it the same way," she said.
Some landlords include death-related provisions in their leases explaining how to proceed, but others don't, she said, and the bill will remove that uncertainty if it becomes law.
"It spells out how the landlord proceeds and what's expected of the tenant's estate," she said. "It's always in everyone's best interest that we have it spelled out how we are to proceed so there is no misunderstanding."
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