Q: I just signed a one-year lease on a place, but changed my mind the next day. When I let the manager know right away, he insisted I owe for the entire lease. Am I still obligated for the whole year?

A: Keep in mind that a lease isn’t just a piece of paper – it’s a legally binding contract between two parties, in this case landlord and tenant. In order to break that contract, both parties have to agree, and that is where it gets tricky. Most landlords will keep you on the hook until a suitable replacement is found to release you from the rental contract.

Are you obligated for an entire year? Possibly not, in some states and localities. Courts have held that the landlord has to make a good-faith effort to re-rent the place as soon as possible. Note that advertising costs may be also be deducted from your deposit. If you feel an unfair amount was withheld, consult a mediator or attorney for details.

Q: Don’t rental consumers have a three-day right to cancel a contract or lease?

A: Known as statutory contract cancellation rights, the right to cancel does not apply to leases. The only possible exception is if the unit was uninhabitable or illegal for rental purposes.

Q: What’s the difference between a month-to-month rental agreement and a fixed-term lease?

A: The difference is usually time, terms and money. A month-to-month is just as it says – it is only based on a monthly calendar basis and is automatically renewed monthly unless one party gives proper notice to end the contract. Leases for a fixed term commit the tenant and landlord to the rental contract and its terms for a certain period of time, typically one year.

Q: I’m thinking of only signing a six-month rental agreement since my plans may change. Should I have chosen a month-to-month?

A: Depends on one’s life and lifestyle. Each type of rental agreement has pros and cons.

For month-to-month: Pros include having flexibility to pack and move at a month’s notice. If your job is subject to change, or your finances may change soon, signing on for a long commitment may not be the best plan. On the minus side, monthly agreements give the landlord monthly options to change the terms of your living situation, including raising the rent (notice varies) or giving notice that your assigned parking spot has been eliminated from the deal.

For fixed-term leases: Pros: The longer the rental agreement, the longer you are guaranteed to pay the same rental amount, at the same terms. Leases spell out various details, such as parking, utilities and laundry privileges. The longer you desire the stability spelled out, the longer you may want to consider signing on for a rental commitment. Folks with dogs or pets should seriously consider a longer-term lease, since once a written lease is negotiated allowing a pet, the pet may remain, even if the place is sold. In a volatile market, some tenants like to know the rent and terms will be fixed. Flexibility in packing up and moving to another place is limited and financial and credit consequences could follow you when you just split on a lease.

Q: I’m almost 18, and ready to move out, but when I found a place, the landlord refused to rent to me since I’m still a minor. Is that fair?

A: Actually, yes. Unless you are a legally emancipated minor, you are not considered legally responsible for your agreements – including a rental agreement, until you reach age 18. Until then, binding contracts, such as a lease or rental agreement, are unenforceable. By allowing you to move in, the landlord would have no ability to legally enforce the lease, including if rent went unpaid. Until age 18, you have two choices if you want to move. Become an emancipated adult through the court or get an adult to co-sign for you as the responsible party on the lease. Otherwise, simply wait until you turn 18 and then go apartment hunting.

Q: What happens when a lease expires?

A: Time to read the fine print. Most fixed-term leases have some language concerning expiration of term, generally becoming a month-to-month arrangement. Never just move at the end of a lease and assume the landlord will know. Give a call, plus written notice, 30 days before, just in case.


What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to opinion@inman.com.

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