An unreported mid-level appellate decision by a Pennsylvania Superior Court illustrates that courts take a dim view to a residential landlord's attempt to defend against breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment and constructive conviction claims against him or her by a tenant by asserting that the parties' dispute stemmed from a good-faith mistake or misunderstanding. In Grodin v. Farr, No. 45 WDA 2019, 2020 WL 919200 (Pa. Super. Ct. Feb. 26, 2020) (nonprecedential decision), the court rejected a landlord's claim that he did not breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment or constructively evict his tenants by changing the locks on their unit because he mistakenly assumed that the tenants had received a key to the back door from the previous tenants and could still gain access to the leased premises.
In reaching its decision, the Grodin court noted that "[i]n every lease of real property, there will be implied a covenant of quiet enjoyment" and "[c]onstructive eviction is one species of a violation of the lessee’s right to quiet enjoyment." Id. at *4 (citing Pollock v. Morelli, 369 A.2d 458, 460 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1976); Sears, Roebuck & Co. v. 69th St. Retail Mall, L.P., 126 A.3d 959, 973 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2015); Kohl v. PNC Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 912 A.2d 237, 249 (Pa. 2006)). As to the landlord's argument that he did not actually intend to block the tenants' enjoyment of the leased premises by changing the locks, the Grodin court ruled as follows:
In the case at hand, we must look to Landlord’s actions and their effect on Tenants, and not to Landlord’s intentions. Regardless of whether he intended to lock out Tenants, by changing the locks on the front door, Landlord prevented Tenants from accessing the leasehold. This Court has consistently found constructive eviction where access to the premises was merely altered or limited in such a way that the utility of the premises was substantially decreased. Thus, we must certainly conclude that constructive eviction has been established where, as here, Landlord’s actions completely denied Tenants’ access to the property, and where Tenants abandoned the premises as a result.
Id. at *6. For another summary of the Grodin case, see Quinlan, Landlord Tenant Law Bulletin, Vol. 41, Issue No. 4 (Apr. 2020).
The decision in Grodin is a clear advisory to landlords that they must be very careful when engaging in any act or conduct, even if done in good faith and without malicious intent, that might be construed as trying to prevent tenants from fully and quietly enjoying leased premises.