Tenant uses job loss to break lease

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Q: Our tenant broke our one-year lease after six months. He has written me a letter claiming he is not responsible for the remaining six months of rent because he had to move after losing his job.

We understand that landlords have an obligation to minimize the loss of rent, but the rental market here is very slow and there is hardly any demand. In the past we have just put up a small sign and we would receive dozens of calls. Not this time. So we have even hired a top local real estate firm to list and show the rental unit, but after 60 days we still have no qualified applicants.

Each month we send the former tenant a rent invoice, but he is refusing to pay. We finally deducted the first month’s rent from his security deposit, but with the other charges for damages there is not enough to cover any more unpaid rent. The ex-tenant, an attorney, is very threatening in his letters to us and seems to be attempting to intimidate us into dropping our claim that the rent is still owed. We would be very grateful for any advice that you could offer.

A: Your tenant may be an attorney but he is incorrect to claim that his change of employment status is grounds to unilaterally breach or attempt to terminate the lease. He is still obligated to pay the rent each month for the entire balance of the lease term. The only exception would be if you had made a specific agreement allowing him to break the lease under certain conditions.

In today’s economic environment, many tenants are seeking such "early termination for cause" clauses. But your former tenant apparently didn’t think ahead by negotiating that right, and as a result, he remains liable for the rent each month.

You should continue to send him an invoice for rent on or before the rental due date each month. It sounds like you are following the proper procedures, as you do have a duty to mitigate or minimize the loss of rent and must take reasonable steps to re-rent the property. Hiring a local real estate firm sounds prudent based on the weak market conditions. I would also suggest you give the firm a short narrative of the efforts you are making to re-rent the property so that you can prevent or at least show that you made reasonable efforts should the tenant ever challenge your efforts to mitigate their loss.  …CONTINUED

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