Breaking your lease isn't as easy as signing one


January 09, 1994|By George B. Laurent

The desire or need to break a lease is common:

signed a lease in the morning. That afternoon, I asked that the lease be canceled. The landlord refused. Doesn't the law give me time to change my mind?"

Maryland law allowing for three days to cancel a contract only covers door-to-door salespeople, health club memberships and certain credit transactions.

"I need to break my lease in order to find a cheaper apartment."

You may have trouble obtaining another apartment if your proposed new landlord checks with your current landlord. Besides, if you break the lease, you may end up owing two or more months of rent plus redecorating costs. It will probably be ++ cheaper to stay where you are even if you have to borrow money in order to complete the lease.

"I have lost my job and simply cannot afford to stay in the apartment."

Unfortunately, loss of a job is not a legal reason for getting out of a lease. Some landlords allow tenants to buy their way out of a lease by paying at least two months' rent. It may be possible to do this and to arrange payments over a period of time.

management doesn't maintain the property properly, should I not be able to break my lease?"

Normally the remedy for poor maintenance is to file a complaint with the local housing inspectors or to send a rent escrow letter by certified mail to the landlord indicating that future rent will not be paid unless repairs are made. If the repairs needed are substantial and the landlord's response to requests for repairs is poor, it is also possible to petition the court, in a rent escrow process, for termination of the lease.

"I have been transferred some distance away and it takes too long to commute."

Unfortunately, you are still bound by the lease and may have to suffer a significant loss for breaking the lease. Sometimes, however, a long commute for a few months will be well worth the considerable saving in not having broken the lease.

"My lease says 'no pets,' so why can't I get a pet and have the landlord tell me to leave?"

You can do this, but the landlord will hold you liable for lost rent, because you were in breach of lease.

"I am continually disturbed by noisy tenants, and the landlord refuses to help."

The tenant may file a breach of lease action for the landlord's failure to assure quiet enjoyment of the premises and, in effect, evicting the tenant. The tenant should ask the court to end the lease and cover moving expenses. Obviously, all will depend upon the tenants' ability to prove the situation.

"I need to break the lease because I am buying a house."

The tenant is still obligated for lost rent. Because few tenants are able to make the ending of a lease coincide with the purchase of a house, the cost of breaking the lease should be viewed simply as a cost of buying a house.

A tenant is generally in a more advantageous position in buying a house than a homeowner who also has to sell a house in order to buy another one. The savings in house prices today and in low interest rates will most likely more than compensate for the rent that must be paid when a lease is broken.

"What is the responsibility of the landlord when a lease is broken? May the landlord refuse to allow me to sublet the property?"

The landlord must make a reasonable effort to mitigate his damages by trying to rent the apartment as soon as possible.

He can't hide the fact that your apartment is now available, but he doesn't have to put your apartment ahead of other vacancies.

With vacancy rates being higher than normal, it may take two to four months before the property is rented.

A landlord does not have to allow subletting to anyone who is not qualified, but in general, a landlord cannot arbitrarily refuse to allow subletting or leasing to another qualified tenant. If he did this, he would not be mitigating his damages.

George B. Laurent is executive director of BNI, or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., a private nonprofit group that works to resolve tenant-landlord problems and to eliminate housing discrimination.

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