Personal Finance

Help! I’m Breaking My Lease

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I have six months left on my lease (I live in D.C.), and I just have to move for personal reasons. I notified the landlord (an individual, not a corporation) two weeks ahead of time (not far enough, I know, but I was only sure about the move then). My rent covers until the end of November, and I moved out one week ahead of time. The apartment was professionally cleaned (I paid by check), and ready for someone to move in. There is no early-release clause in my lease. We have had an excellent relationship with the landlord. Even when we were arguing about breaking the lease, he said that he would have loved for us to rent here “forever.”

The landlord’s side: He was upset about it since he just bought a house and he can’t pay two mortgages. I offered to pay December’s rent, and also let him keep the deposit, which is worth one month’s rent. That is one-third of the remaining lease. And he refuses. He keeps saying he had to hire his people to make the place brand new, and that eats into the deposit. But I know that by law, you can’t deduct wear-and-tear fixes (such as cleaning the oven, replacing stove top metal thing-y, steaming the carpet) from the deposit.

The apartment is right in front of the metro and in a very safe, walkable area. During the one week that we listed the apartment on Craigslist, we’ve had three people come to see the apartment, so I think the buyout offer I gave him is a fair one.

What can I do here? Of course, I understand this is not legal advice, I just think that this must happen to people, and someone might have good tips to share. — T.

Your offer to pay December’s rent while you’re not living there and allowing your landlord to keep your one-month deposit while he finds replacement tenants for a mid-December or January move-in seems reasonable. What’s unclear to me in your letter is why he finds this offer unreasonable, and what he would consider a reasonable offer. Does he want you to pay for the steam cleaning and stovetop replacements so that he doesn’t have to deduct that from the deposit? If so, it might be worth it to do that so that this doesn’t become a long drawn-out ordeal

I lived in D.C. for less than a year, and am by no means an expert on rental agreements, but there are tenant advocates that you can reach out to you to offer more specific advice: The Office of the Tenant Advocate is the place you should go, though when it comes to breaking a lease, they may ask you to seek the help of a lawyer.

I’ve never broken a lease (my landlords have generally been the kinds who have been OK with me moving out as long as I give a month’s notice), but perhaps there are others here who can offer more nuanced advice.

This post originally appeared on partner site The Billfold.

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  • THREEDOORSUP

    What I think stinks is that most renters have no concern for taking care of someone else’s property. Breaking a lease is no small matter. Forget getting your deposit back! Most leases state that any violation of the agreement is termination of the Lease and the deposit is forefeit. The Landlord then has to come in clean up, repair damages. Most have non-smoking policies or no pet policies but you can bet your right butt the renters ignored this, had friends or family over who smoked, got a pet and didn’t pay a pet deposit as well as now the house smells like wet dog, cat pee and smoke. Even going to magistrate court only gives the landlord back possession of the house and not damages. Oh sure…the Landlord is awarded damages but the court doesn’t enforce it. But they frown on the Landlord going after the juvieniles with a baseball bat. Meanwhile the landlord has to pay out of his own pocket to have the house professionally cleaned, Pest control brought in, and repainted. Which usually amounts to well past the deposit! The only reason I keep doing it is because in the long run it is a better retirement income then what I would get from my lousy little pension check. A little elbow grease is worth the investment, despite inconsiderate immature people who think they can act like the boss and who have the entitlement mentality(I want the place spotless when I move in but don’t give a crap how they keep up the place) People work hard to become home owners. If you want your “own place” then save your money, stop wasting it on going out partying and make an investment. Then take care of it. And when a Landlord kicks you out. It’s not personal. It’s Business. And it’s protecting his property, which you obviously were not doing. Another thing. Your Personal Problems are not your landlords. He or She doesn’t have to take the brunt of your miscalculations, your lost relationships, Your lost job, Your getting busted for DUI or going to jail. You don’t PAY…You don’t STAY. It’s as simple as that. His mortgage company doesn’t care whether or not his renters are late. They will still charge him a Late mortgage fee and eventually send him a Foreclosure notice so don’t expect any kind of mercy or breaks because you have personal issues. They are not his to worry about. His property….HIS property…(not yours)…IS his priority.

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