Q: I have a tenant who recently signed a two-year lease for my rental home. She just contacted me indicating that she has been approached by her employer about transferring to another city for a promotion with the company. She wanted me to voluntarily let her out of the lease, but I declined, as the rental market here is not that strong and it took me three months to rent the house.
I don’t want to be difficult, but I hate to lose a good tenant when I spent so much money upgrading the rental unit and marketing the property. She has now come back to me with the proposal that the employer will pay me a "reasonable" amount to break the lease. I don’t have any idea on what is an appropriate charge. Am I limited to a certain amount? What if I ask for three months’ rent and end up renting the house in two months?
A: Your tenant is approaching you about breaking the lease so you have the option of simply declining and holding her to the lease. Of course, in most states if the tenant does vacate your rental home you are obligated to re-rent the property and can’t just let it sit empty and expect the tenant to pay the rent for the balance of remaining months on the two-year lease. On the other hand, you could agree to unilaterally release your tenant from any further obligation under the lease for nothing.
I would recommend a middle-ground response that is calculated based on a conservative estimate of the most likely costs you will incur in re-leasing the property. That includes the cost of cleaning and preparing the home to be rented, the advertising, and the length of time you will not collect rent. Based on the soft rental market you may want to propose a lease cancellation fee that includes your out-of-pocket expenses plus four or five months of rent. The factor you want to keep in mind is how long it will take you to re-lease the unit and whether it would be at least at the rent level you were to receive under the lease if the tenant weren’t leaving. If it is likely that you will not be able to get the same rental rate as the current tenant is paying or if you will have to offer some concessions (like free rent), then you should include that as well.
So while you could play hard ball and demand the full remaining balance of all the lease payments to the end of the lease, the reality is that you and your tenant’s employer will probably reach a compromise. Once the amount has been mutually agreed, be sure to prepare a basic written agreement that indicates it is a full and final settlement and that you will not seek any further payments — but that you will not pay back any funds even if you are able to re-lease the property in less than the agreed time.
Q: I ran a search on Google to try to determine what laws exist regarding how often an apartment unit must be repainted, but had no luck. Can you help me? My landlord told me that because I have lived in the unit for at least 18 months, he would be required to paint the unit anyway and therefore the minor wear-and-tear damage I did to the walls was not relevant.
However, when I received the accounting for my security deposit today from the property manager, I was amazed to discover that they had deducted $570 out of my $800 deposit for "paint and material." They also charged me $45 for carpet cleaning even though I saw them move entirely new carpet in. Does any law exist to determine how often an apartment must be repainted and what factors are considered to determine who is ultimately responsible for the costs incurred?
A: I am not aware of any state law specifically designating a requirement that landlords must repaint the interior of a rental property based on a certain number of months. While there are laws concerning lead-based-paint hazards in the event the paint is chipping or deteriorating, the determination of repainting for non-lead-based paint is more a function of the normal wear and tear and an evaluation of any damage to the paint by the tenant.
Of course, the paint will eventually wear out and the timing of the need to repaint the rental property is based on a multitude of factors besides just the treatment by the occupants. Other factors include the original quality of the paint, the quality of the application, the location (i.e. weather, climate), and the care and maintenance during the tenancy. It has been my experience (25-plus years and 40,000-plus apartments managed) that a typical paint job should definitely last more than 18 months if the paint quality and application are decent in most residential circumstances. Thus, if the landlord had to completely repaint the rental unit in less than 18 months then it is very likely the result of damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.
You could send your landlord a written demand to document their determination of the condition of the rental unit that necessitated the complete repainting as well as invoices supporting the costs for painting deducted from your security deposit. I don’t think it is appropriate that your former landlord deducted $45 for cleaning the carpet if they didn’t actually clean anything. It is possible that they tried to clean the carpet but had unsatisfactory results so they needed to replace the carpet. But you should contact them and ask for proof of payment, or I would agree the charge is not proper.
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."
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