What is a landlord’s obligation regarding security deposit and future rent if their tenantsigned a lease and now wants to break it?

If a lease read: If tenant breaks this residential lease, tenant may lose security deposit and another place in the lease it states Tenant agrees that the security deposit shall not be returned by landlord if the tenant terminates this lease before expiration of the lease term. The lease was signed by the tenant 6 weeks ago and security deposit paid; within 3 weeks they told me that they wanted out of the lease. Do I have to return the deposit? This was a 2 year lease they signed. The kicker is that I don’t have a copy of the signed lease. I do have a witness that it was signed.

Asked on October 9, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Pennsylvania


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Yes, that certainly is the kicker as you say.  Because before you can even get to the issue of the terms the court has to see that the lease agreement was signed "by the party to be charged" meaning the tenant here.  You know that a lease is a binding contract and the parties will be held to the terms and rights and liabilities thereunder.  But the court can not enforce what they do not have legally before them. They can make inferences and take testimony under your rules of evidence in the state - that would be from the witness that saw them sign - but I would double check with an attorney in your area on the matter.  Right now it looks like a month to month lease.  And the issue of it being non-refundable if they break the lease is always a red flag to me.  You need to check that with an attorney in your state.  Some states do allow that but some absolutely do not.  Security is for damage - generally - above normal wear and tear.  Good luck.  

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