Q: A few months ago I rented a house in a rural area with my girlfriend. We both completed separate rental applications and signed the two-year lease. I now have a major problem. After several weeks of putting up with her drunken tirades and verbal abuse, I am in fear of my safety. The neighbors called the police numerous times, and I even had to call them last month. At that time, the officer responding to my call suggested I might want to find another place to live to keep the peace. I took his advice and moved out.
Trying to talk to my now ex-girlfriend on the phone always ends up in an argument. I need to simply move forward with my life and want to break the lease.
I contacted the landlord and explained the situation, but he tells me that he relied upon my income in approving us for the rental house. My ex does have some income from a part-time job, and she sporadically receives some child support payments for her two kids. The landlord says that her income is not sufficient or reliable. I have a good job, but I can’t afford to pay her rent and the rent for my new place for almost two more years. Also, I made some improvements to the house and think the landlord should have to pay me for the materials and my labor.
What can I do to get the landlord to take my name off the lease? Or how can I get my ex to move out so that I can move back in? I made the improvements for my own benefit while living there, but shouldn’t the landlord reimburse me because I had to move out before the end of the lease?
A: The status of the relationship between the two of you is not relevant, and you are simply co-tenants of the rental house. The challenges you are experiencing are a civil matter that is not your landlord’s problem, and you and your roommate are jointly and severally responsible for the duration of the lease whether you are living there or not.
If you were both to vacate the property, then the landlord would be required to mitigate damages by attempting to re-rent the premises. In that event, you and your roommate are responsible only for the rent (and any damages) until the new tenant begins paying rent, plus the costs to advertise and prepare the rental unit. Remember that the fact that one or even both or you are not actually occupying the premises is not a condition of the lease.
You should seek legal assistance to work out a solution with your roommate, and that could include an agreement whereby you take possession of the rental house and she agrees to leave. You can also reach your own terms as to who is responsible for paying the monthly rent, but that doesn’t change the landlord’s position that both of you are still on the lease and the landlord can choose to go after either tenant for any unpaid rent or property damage. If it is impossible for both of you to live there, then maybe you should both vacate and work with the landlord to leave the property in good condition and even help him find another tenant quickly.
While your position is that the problems with your roommate are not your fault, surely the landlord is not at fault for the inability of you and your roommate to live together. Thus, you and your roommate must take the necessary steps to resolve your differences and be prepared to pay the full rent and properly maintain the rental unit until the lease expires or until an early termination and re-rental has been achieved. You would not be entitled to any reimbursement from the landlord for any improvements or upgrades you voluntarily chose to make to the property unless there was an enforceable verbal or written contract between you and the landlord requiring reimbursement of your costs and labor. It seems that you did the work based on taking the property in an "as is" condition and with the expectation that you would benefit from the improvements during your tenancy. Now that you may not be able to actually enjoy your handiwork doesn’t mean that the landlord must compensate you. Two years is a long time if you aren’t absolutely sure of your relationship and aren’t willing to make such a significant financial commitment to your landlord, so maybe next time you will sign a shorter-term lease.
Q: I recently applied for an apartment and the property manager collected applicant screening fees for each of us. Later I realized that since my wife is here on a visa she doesn’t have a Social Security number, so how can they charge me for a credit report? Shouldn’t I have been charged for only one screening fee?
A: A Social Security number is not required to perform applicant screenings, so the charge is likely legitimate. There is much more to properly screening prospective tenants than just obtaining a consumer credit report. The property manager needs to verify income and references and other information provided. Of course, you should ask for proof that they did perform their usual applicant screening process, and they should not charge you if they didn’t.
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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