Question: Currently I am renting an apartment, but an unanticipated opportunity has arisen where I’m able to purchase a condo if I can just get out of the balance of my long-term lease. The lease states that if I terminate the lease early I must cancel in writing while paying the balance of rent due through my actual move-out date plus an early termination fee equal to one month’s rent. Is there any way of getting out of this or at least reducing some of this cost? I know that there is a waiting list for apartments in the complex so it should be rented fairly quickly. Also, I plan on cleaning the apartment up as best as possible so that it can be rented right away.
Property Manager Griswold replies:
Since you have no legal grounds to prematurely terminate your lease, the liquidated damages clause is actually a good option. The tenant-landlord laws typically state that you are responsible for the entire balance of the lease period or until the rental unit is re-rented. While the landlord must make an effort to re-rent your unit, he/she does not have to go to great lengths to put a priority on renting your unit versus other currently vacant units or others on notice. Also, even if there is a waiting list it can easily take several days to prepare the rental unit for a new move-in and additional time to actually get a new tenant approved and scheduled for move-in. While a “waiting list” sounds promising, it is my experience that waiting lists often contain names of people who are not interested in your particular unit (wrong size, wrong location, etc.) or have already found alternative housing. Further, these individuals must be financially qualified and meet all other screening criteria. In short, I think that the 30-day early-termination fee is your best bet and avoids the uncertainty and risk of potentially being on the hook for several months of rent. You are always wise to leave the apartment in rent-ready condition even if you will be paying the early-termination fee because your security deposit is still subject to legally permitted deductions.
Question: About a year ago we switched from cable TV to satellite service, making a point to first get permission from the building manager to mount the dish to the roof of the building. Recently, the building owner saw the dish for the first time and demanded that it be removed or relocated to a non-permanent location, e.g., a tripod. As an agent of the owner had granted us permission, shouldn’t we be allowed to keep the dish where it is? If not, shouldn’t the owner or manager be required to pay for re-installation?
Tenants’ attorney Kellman replies:
The FCC made some rules making it illegal to restrict certain dish antennas in situations with zoning and condominium association regulations. Those rules were later changed to cover and protect tenants who wish to install a dish antenna (one meter or less in diameter) to receive TV or access the Internet. The dish may be mounted inside the unit or outside on a part that is for your use only, such as a balcony, terrace, deck or patio area. Tenants generally may not use common areas like the roof, hallways, walkways or exterior walls. A landlord may make restrictions over dish antennas if they are for legitimate safety needs) like impairing the use of fire escapes, etc.). In your case, it appears that you are renting an apartment in a multi-unit building. If so, the landlord may restrict the mounting of an antenna on the roof since that is a common area (and may arguably impact safety). The landlord may not, however, demand that you sue a tripod. You may still use a fixed “permanent” mount for the antenna, but in a location set aside for your use only with the rental. If the permission was given in a provable manner, and you have a lease, the landlord will have to wait until the lease ends to revoke that permission. If you are renting month-to-month, the tenancy rules may be changed with an appropriate notice as long as those new rules do not violate the FCC regulations.
Landlord’s attorney Smith replies:
I agree with Mr. Kellman in certain respects. The apartment manager miscued by granting you permission to install the dish on the roof of the building. This is a direct violation of Federal Communications Commission regulations.
The manager may now require the roof dish to be removed – but only after proper notice. This will occur when the lease expires. If it is month to month, then a 30-day change in terms of tenancy notice will do the job. After expiration of the notice, the dish must be removed from the roof. Otherwise, the tenant could be evicted for violation of the agreement.
Once removed, the dish must be relocated to be within the confines of the tenant’s living area or the private balcony or patio. It may neither protrude over nor be affixed to the balcony or patio railing. If the notice period for removal of the antenna from the roof has expired, the landlord, in my view, would be under no legal obligation to compensate the resident for removal.
This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold, author of “Property Management for Dummies” and co-author of “Real Estate Investing for Dummies,” in association with 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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