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We recently moved from one rental to another. Due to finding our new place rapidly, we submitted our 30 days notice on July 15 which was also our starting day at the new place. We had nearly moved everything out on July 23 with some minor cleaning left to do after that. On July 29 we had the final walk-through with the landlord and handed over the keys with him saying that we would be receiving the full security deposit back but we still paid rent till Aug 14 since that was 30 days. At this point it seems that we had officially abandoned the property according to the lease:

Tenant has abandoned the Property if: 1. Tenant has physically vacated the premises, removed substantially all personal property, OR ...

We no longer had any access to the place and the landlord began performing upgrades to the place, entering and using the premises at will with no communication with us.

Now comes the sticky part. We cancelled the utilities to the place on July 30 since we could no longer make use of the property in any way and had fully abandoned the property. However, the landlord apparently did not start the utilities in his name so they were shutoff (even though we know he and his contractors were entering the place and using it). Since the electricity was off, sometime around Aug 7 the sump pump stopped working during a storm and the basement was flooded with ~1 ft of water causing significant damage to the premises.

Who is responsible for the damage? We think that since we had completely abandoned it, no longer had access to it, he was using it for his own purposes, and even said that if he could get someone to move in he would (he had been showing it during the July 23-28 period when we had all but moved out), we were right to terminate the utilities in our name. He says that since it was within the final 30 days we were still responsible.

This is in Pennsylvania, US. Any terms in the lease needed can be provided.

  • I agree with @InakiViggers answer - and this comment should not detract from it - but I don't think you abandoned the property (which has negative connotations) - rather you returned possession of the property to the landlord (which implies you did the right thing). – davidgo Aug 15 '18 at 7:01
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    Also, his contractors had entered the property - the question to ask would be "Could the landlord reasonably expect you to pay for his use of power during renovations" - as the answer to this would be "no". Also, what had happened if the power had gone out during the storm? (Also, the landlord is probably insured for this) – davidgo Aug 15 '18 at 7:09
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I assume the lease does not clarify what the effective date for cancellation of utilities should be: when you "officially abandon" the property, or when the 30-day notice elapses.

Who is responsible for the damage?

At least under a principle of equity, the landlord is responsible for the damages. That is because, once you have returned the keys and officially abandoned the property, you have no control on how or whether utilities are consumed or (ab-)used thereafter. For instance, if sometime after the 30th of July a person breaks in that rental unit and extracts tremendous quantities of power or gas, that would lead to the inequitable outcome that the utilities company would charge you if your name is still in the utilities company's records.

Similarly, it would be unreasonable and inequitable to expect you to essentially insure the landlord (by keeping your name on the utilities) despite his full awareness that you no longer are there.

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