Had to break lease - Mgt found new tenant, but...

worrywartOctober 14, 2007

I had to break the lease on an apartment I was in for about 2 months, informed the manager. Terms of the lease are that rent is paid by current tenant until a new tenant is found and approved by mgt. About early to mid September, she found a couple to take the place. I was looking for a new place for myself, and told her I could move into a new place on Oct 1, but not earlier, was the couple flexible. The couple agreed to start their lease for Oct 5, and manager asked me to pay rent for Oct 1-4 only. I paid it, moved out on Oct 1 into my new apt.

Manager called me Oct 6 and told me couple had backed out. I was shocked- asked how was this possible, hadn't they signed a lease? She told me she had not signed them to a lease, had an appointment with them that morning to sign lease, hand over keys, etc, but they left her a message saying they would not take the apt. She had only collected a $500 holding deposit, not a full one. She said typically, she always did the lease signing, key handover, deposit and rental collection all at once, this is why she did not do it earlier.

I explained my situation, that she had never informed me that a lease was not signed (and therefore I was potentially still responsible for Oct rent until one was), and all of our conversations indicated that one was. I made my Oct budget thinking that I would not have to pay rent on old apt. I have family living nearby, and might have otherwise chosen to put stuff in storage and live with them until out of the lease. I pointed out that it was unfair that now I might have to pay rent on two apartments (I live in LA, very expensive), because she had not given me the proper information to make a decision on whether to stay with family or go into a new apt, and asked if she would be willing to split the remainder of the month's rent with me. She did not sound like she wanted to do that.

Any thoughts... do you think I have any legal recourse here? I have spoken to a lawyer (a criminal prosecutor, so not completely familiar with real estate/leases), who (as far as she can recall from law school) thinks that the terms of the lease is the binding agreement, and that there is nothing I can do, except appeal to the manager's sense of fairness. Which I have, and she doesn't seem to have a sense of it.

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I glanced over our lease and it states without question that if we are the ones to break the lease, no matter the reason, we, and only we as the tenants are solely responsible for the rent til the end of the least term, regardless if the apt can be rerented, and there is a fee just for breaking the lease which is $1500.

Do you have your lease you can look at? Your lease will stand up in court unless you had extreme circumstances which you left under. It does seem like you were a bit mislead but I do believe that leases, key exchange and all that was said usually does all take place on the day of move in so it was a bit presumptuous to assume you were free and clear, she should have really made it clear to you that you were not nearly out of the woods yet.

Best of luck

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 2:36PM
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How is it that you rationalize that it is unfair to you? You chose to break your lease and move to a different apartment.

It appears that the landlord made an attempt to re-rent it as soon as possible. It did not work out. You are still legally responsible for the lease until it gets re-rented.

The person who is getting the short end of the stick here, is the poor landlord who has a tenent who broke their lease on a whim and also had a prospective tenent go back on their word to show up and sign a lease. I do not see how the landlord is expected to make everyone else's life comfortable. I'm sure there is a going to be a sob story thread here about someone losing their deposit because they did not bother to show up on moving day as they had promised.

Now the landlord has to shell out more money to advertise the place, and pay more money to run credit checks, and spend time showing the place again.

Hopefully the place will get re-rented soon.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 4:30PM
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Funny, but I don't see it that way. Yes, she broke the lease, but did go about it in a straightforward way and did go along with the LL's plan. The LL should be the one to pay now because she told the tenant she was off the hook and should never have done so (without at least warning her a new lease had not been signed) unless she was prepared to carry the difference. She knew the tenant was going to have to pay for a new place, pay for moving, etc. and not having been clear about the situation, regardless of how the lease was broken, was just completely thoughtless, and she should be responsible.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 4:31AM
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Well, she is not responsible. Legally she can collect the lease in full although a judge will not allow a LL to collect double by awarding a judgment for the full lease amount when an apartment has been re-rented - only the amount for which the aparment sat empty. There was nothing in the original post about the LL telling the tenent that they "were off the hook" and if that did happen OP should have gotten it in writing. The LL said that a couple had promised to move in. I think it is admirable that the LL made the effort to re-rent the place right away as some LL do not put much effort into it, knowing that they can still collect from the tenent that broke the lease. The law says that the LL must put a 'resonable effort' into re-renting and it looks like the LL scrambled to get it re-rented in a timely manner.

Also, unless an apartment has become uninhabitable, (fire, flood, mold, ect.) or there are numerous or severe health code or building code violations that are not being properly addressed, there are no "extreme circumstances" that the courts will deam appropriate to break a lease and leave the LL up a creek and out money. It's not the LL's fault if you lose your job or break up with your roommate. One should consider themselves lucky to have a LL who will try to work with them through a job transfer, illness, divorce, or other personal tragedies, because in the long run the leasee is still responsible for payment. Even death does not release one from their lease agreement as the LL can sue the deceased person's estate for unpaid rent.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 2:38PM
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nly we as the tenants are solely responsible for the rent til the end of the least term, regardless if the apt can be rerented

Is this even enforceable? Many states have as a matter of state law that a landlord cannot charge two people rent on the same apartment for the same time period.

If the landlord moves someone into your apartment while you are still paying the rent, then the landlord has broken the lease, and you should be off the hook.

And never can a lease's terms override state or local law.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 6:25PM
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Thanks for the replies and thoughts. I think I can also see it from the mgmt's side, that breaking a lease has created more work and expense for her to find a new tenant.

The new tenants never moved in, but did not say they were backing out of signing the lease until the day after they were to start the lease.

Also, mgr never specifically said the words that we were off the hook, however she did calculate a pro-rated rent and asked me to pay only for Oct 1-4.

I do see the point that legally I may have no ground to stand on, given that I made the choice to break the lease, however I feel that she was not honest when she failed to disclose that a new lease had not been signed, however continued to give me every indication that one had been (e.g. pro-rated rent, asking to leave the keys and garage remote in the kitchen, to disconnect electricity on a specific day)

    Bookmark   October 15, 2007 at 10:42PM
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You were asked to leave the keys, the remote, and any other property owned by the landlord, because you vacated the premises. What did you think she would say, "Take them with you." Telling you to disconnect the utilites that were in your name was a favor to you in case you forgot to do so in the rush of moving. Imagine the bill you could get if some unscrupleous LL or the new tenents, decided to watch PPV movies, make long distance calls, or run a kiln off your meter because, guess what! - The utility companies don't care who ran up the useage, only who is the responsible person listed on the account to collect from. You would have had a nightmare to straighten out battling the utility companies.

Worrywart, you seem like a nice reasonable guy/gal who tries to do the right thing. You just did not understand how things like this work with leases. You may be younger and this is all new to you. Your LL seems like a nice person who was willing to work with you, but circumstances did not pan out in your favor. This is unfortunate. You registered at this site two months ago. Why didn't you ask for advice about breaking your lease and find out the contingencies BEFORE you moved? If I were you, I would read up on landlord/tenent law for your state/municipality so you can familiarize yourself with things and can make an informed decision next time you want to move. I do wish the best for you.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 1:25AM
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Bud - you're being kind of nasty here - she wasn't complaining about having to leave the keys, etc., just explaining, and arrogantly assuming she's very young (and therefore ignorant) is also a stretch as is assuming one would know all the questions to have asked earlier on. Can't you be a little less confrontational in your postings?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 5:20AM
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Lucy, I didn't think this last post was *that* confrontational.

If I'm paying the rent on the place, I want the keys, thank you very much. Bcs as long as I'm paying the rent, that space is still MINE to control, whether I also live somewhere else or not.

I'll hand them in when the new tenant has signed.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 9:29AM
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I'm sorry I anyone felt I was being confrontational. Postings have to be kept short and to the point, and that can be misinterpeted sometimes.

I do have to beg to differ on the 'turning in the keys thing'. If a walk through was done when worrywart moved out and he/she received the paperwork indicating that everything was clean and in perfect order upon vacating, I think it is best to turn over the keys. Otherwise if the tenent insists on mailing the keys back later when the place has a new lease they may not be able to be there whe the walk through is conducted. A shady landlord could use this to their advantage claiming damage that does not exist.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2007 at 1:03PM
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You're bound by the terms of your lease. Until the unit is re-rented (and you're lucky here that the owner is making a real effort to re-rent) you're on the hook.

You have no legal recourse.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2007 at 3:54PM
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I've been out of town so am a little late to this party ;) Just thought I'd toss in my .02.

I'm not a lawyer but am a landlord. I'm going to disagree to some extent with some posts here. I'm looking at it from my perspective and personally I feel like your landlord goofed, and is perhaps circling back to you to cover her mistakes. A lot of things that should have been put in writing were not. However, there are strong indicators of the direction this deal was taking. Allowing you to pay prorated rent for October is a big indicator that your landlord was not only aware of the fact that you were moving, she also approved a specific and premature (prior to lease expiration) 'end' date in October that your rent payment would cease. In other words it's not like you up and moved out under cloak of darkness ;) Clearly discussion and negotiation took place because a specific number of days for October rent was decided and agreed upon by both parties.

Next she went so far as to secure a deposit from a different prospective tenant. It's true you're responsible for rent till your lease is up, but it's also true she needs to seek other occupants and secure them via a binding contract. She fell short here. I don't see that it matters whether she took $500 to 'hold' it or the same amount that she charged you for a deposit, because landlords can change deposit amounts from tenant to tenant, as long as it's not in violation of the ceiling dictated by State law. The dollar amount she took from them is not really your concern or burden to bear, that was her call to make and does not involve you because she's commencing a new agreement with entirely different parties involved. The fact is she took a deposit, released you early, but failed to obtain the most critical component: a signed, binding agreement with the new tenants. Big mistake. Deals fall through all the time. A deal is never sealed until all parties have signed on.

I'm imagining myself standing in front of a judge explaining why I'm trying to now come back to worrywart for rents due and frankly, I think I'd be embarrassed. It would have been so easy to have a lease ready, signed when the deposit was collected, but not commence until 10/5. Then she could have officially let you know that you only needed to pay through 10/4, because a new lease was starting 10/5. She dropped that ball.

So I'm thinking you're not entirely responsible at this point and that you do have recourse. The strongest indicator is the acceptance of the pro-rated rent, the second indicator is the deposit she got from the other couple. If your landlord failed to follow through and seal the deal with a signed lease with new tenants before letting you out, that's not really your burden to bear.

That's how I see it anyway.

    Bookmark   October 24, 2007 at 10:20AM
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