Question: I am on a month-to-month rental agreement at an older rental house in a good area. I’ve just received a 30-day notice to vacate in the middle of the month. The legal notice states I must be out by the 20th of next month and there is no reason stated. I suspect they want to remodel and charge a lot more rent with the summer season soon approaching. The landlord has not been honest so I actually do not mind moving. My concern is that the 20th is not the most convenient time for me to move, as I prefer the 10th of next month. If I go ahead and leave early do I have to pay for the balance of the 10 days until their notice to vacate expires? Can’t I just pay for the days that I am actually there?

Property manager Griswold replies:

You cannot unilaterally move out before the 30 days and just prorate the rent without the mutual agreement of the landlord. Thus, you should immediately contact the landlord to reach an agreement and then be sure to record the details in writing. Otherwise, if you were to just leave and attempt to only pay partial rent, the landlord would be within his/her rights to deduct the balance of 10 days from your security deposit or seek the funds in Small Claims Court. If you cannot reach the landlord on the phone to discuss the matter, I suggest that you send the landlord a written request indicating that you will be glad to leave but that you need to be out on the 10th and are willing to pay through the 10th only.

Question: I am two months into a one-year lease agreement in a rental house. I recently was given an opportunity to change my career. However, the job change meant moving to another firm more than 45 miles away. I spoke with my landlord before I accepted the job and asked if he would be willing to work with me regarding getting out of the lease. I suggested a three-month notice and that I would pay any expenses he may incur and also proposed that he keep my entire $500 security deposit. He mentioned that we could work something out so the next day I accepted the job. Later that same day I received a call from my landlord advising me that he was going to require me to fulfill the full one-year lease. Is there any way I can get out of the lease due to a change in my career in another city? I am even willing to give a six-month notice and pay further expenses.

Landlords’ attorney Smith replies:

I’m afraid not. Your job transfer is not legal justification for your breach of lease. The landlord can hold you to the term. Tenant/landlord laws typically require the landlord to mitigate the potential damages of the tenant. That means the landlord must make a diligent effort to market the property to qualified replacement tenants. Such efforts include advertising, listing, showing and posting signs. So long as the landlord can show proper diligence, you will be held responsible for the vacancy factor together with advertising expenses and administration costs. Hopefully the landlord will be successful in re-leasing the property so that your liability can be minimized.

Question. I moved into a rental home about two months ago. Upon moving in I paid a security deposit, at which point the homeowner indicated that when I moved out she would withhold $600 for cleaning the carpets. She also indicated that she would withhold this amount even if I had the carpets cleaned. This sounds unreasonable to me! Can I clean the carpets myself or have them cleaned professionally to avoid this?

Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:

Dirt left in a carpet (or in the rest of the unit) is generally not considered ordinary wear and tear and is a legitimate charge unless there is a specific law or agreement between the parties not allowing for carpet cleaning. So your landlord can deduct a reasonable amount from your deposit to cover the cost of cleaning the unit, including the carpet. A stain in a defective carpet or other surface is an exception to this rule because it may not be possible to clean it. Rental agreement provisions that have preset deductions for cleaning are probably not valid and unenforceable. Typically the tenant/landlord laws provide that residential rental agreements may not waive certain rights you have, including your rights concerning the security deposit. A rental agreement, however, may have guidelines about what a landlord intends to charge if the unit needs to be cleaned by them. You have the right to have the unit cleaned on your own to avoid the charges the landlord has told you she intends to charge. If you clean the unit or carpet yourself, you run the risk she will claim they were not cleaned properly and charge you anyway. It is better to have the unit and carpets professionally cleaned. You can take advantage of any promotional discounts with these services and keep the costs down. She cannot then charge you for that same cleaning again because you will have proof it was properly cleaned.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies,” and San Diego attorneys Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant’s Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords.

E-mail your questions to Rental Q&A at Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.


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