Question: My husband signed a 12-month lease for my daughter when she went off to college. Unfortunately, within her first two months away from home she developed severe depression and we sent her to both a psychologist and a psychiatrist, as she is unable to get out of bed even with medication. After talking with her psychologist we agreed we better bring her home to live with her for her own safety. She has had to drop all of her classes at college and before this had a 3.0 grade-point average. We need to get out of her lease and spoke to the manager who told us that we would have to pay for 60 days’ rent. Further, we must pay back the first month’s rent that was free with the lease plus a $250 bonus coupon that was used on the second month’s rent. This totals more than $3,500 just to break the lease. Can you help us think of a legal way to get out of the lease?
Property Manager Griswold replies:
No, I can’t. You may want to seek legal advice who can actually look at your documents. While your daughter definitely has an unfortunate situation, I am not aware of any justified legal basis for her breaking the lease. This may seem harsh, but the lease is a formal written contract that requires the performance of all parties regardless of any changes in personal needs. You can present your story to the management and see if they will be willing to negotiate a better deal; however, it sounds like you are actually being offered a liquidated damages buyout of the remaining lease term rather than the landlord holding your daughter responsible for the entire term of the lease or until the rental unit is re-rented. Of course, any rental concessions, such as free rent or discounts off of the rent, are only valid for residents who fulfill the entire term of the lease. In other words, no rental property would stay in business for long by offering free rent and then allowing the resident to just cancel when it is time to pay rent even if the circumstances are beyond their control. You may not have been able to predict the change in your daughter’s mental health, but your experience exemplifies one of the risks tenants face when taking advantage of the benefits of long-term leases. If your daughter had been on a month-to-month rental agreement, then it would have been relatively inexpensive to relinquish her apartment. Of course, she would not have been offered the generous rent concessions, would have likely paid a higher monthly rental rate, and would be subject to changes in the terms of her rental agreement at anytime upon 30 days’ written notice. I hope that your daughter returns to good health and is back at school in the near future. In light of your circumstances, you may want to try and negotiate some sort of agreement that would allow your daughter to return to the apartment community upon favorable terms.
Question: We were told by the property manager at a local rental property that a law exists that states the longest apartment lease that can be written is for 12 months. We wanted a 24-month lease. Is 12 months the longest lease term a landlord can write?
Landlords‘ attorney Smith replies:
There is no upper limit on the length of time for which a landlord may lease residential property. The general rule of thumb is 12 months. I’ve seen cases of 24-month, 36-month and 5-year residential leases. That’s rare but it’s possible. Any lease beyond one year must be in writing according to the statute of frauds. Your landlord is not legally required to do a 24-month lease but maybe you can talk him/her into it if you are prepared to lock yourself in to that type of commitment.
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.
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