Fees target lease-breaking renters

Rent it Right

Q: My tenant of several months moved out, breaking his year’s lease with seven months left on it. The lease has a termination-fee clause, in which he agreed to pay one-and-a-half month’s rent if he moves out early. I took that money out of his security deposit. Because housing is tight here, I was able to re-rent within a week. Do I have to return this fee? –Andre Z.

A: Termination fees, which compensate the landlord when a tenant leaves early, are increasingly popular, and some states are catching on and beginning to allow them. Here’s how they work: The lease specifies that a certain amount will be due if the lease is broken, regardless of whether, or when, the landlord finds a new tenant. This agreement changes the default rule that applies in most states: Normally, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit; once it’s re-rented, the tenant’s obligation to pay rent for the balance of the lease term ends.