Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Landlord Tenant Question: Can Landlord Cancel Lease after Fire?

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | May 31, 2010

The following question, which was posted on a website called “Our Pets” was forwarded to me through the message box. Since there is no reply address, I am posting the question and answer.

Q: My family lived in a rental house. There was a fire in the kitchen which totally destroyed it (the kitchen). The house is not liveable and we did not have renters insurance. We found temporary shelter, but the landlord is cancelling our lease, keeping our deposit and the payment for May’s rent, which I had already sent him. He says he is keeping the payment to help him pay his insurance deductible, or we’d have the pay out the lease for the rest of the term. Is that right or legal even. Need help quick!

A:  Do you have a copy of the lease?  The lease will probably contain specific language setting forth the landlord’s remedies.  I suggest you take the lease to a lawyer who is familiar with landlord-tenant law if you are still confused after reading the lease.

Leases often say that one party or either cab terminate the lease if the extent of the damage is so great that the premises cannot be restored to livable condition in a specified period of time.  The lease may also address other important details.  Read the lease carefully.

What were the circumstances of the fire?  Did the landlord blame you for negligently starting the fire?  Or was it caused by an electrical or appliance malfunction?  The landlord must have a reason to hold you liable for the deductable.  Again, talk to a lawyer.

These questions may also bear upon your ability to reclaim all or part of your security deposit.  You need to weigh the pros and  cons of suing to obtain the May rent and the deposit, but you ought to have some legal advice.  Otherwise, you cannot make an informed choice and probably do not have the skills to carry it off.  Remember, there are always two sides to the story and you will have to counter the other side if you go to court.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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