Sunday, August 14, 2011

Weekly Whine: Breaking Leases

Back when I was just a little fourth year med student, my husband (then boyfriend) leased us a fairly pricey one bedroom apartment. It was a decent apartment in a nice area, and we weren't unhappy there.

However, the problem was: we signed a lease until the end of September. I was going to start residency in late June or early July and there were no residency programs in the area. All right, there was one program, but they wouldn't even interview me (snooty bastards). The next closest program was an hour's drive away.

Those of you who have been in internship know the problem. Being an hour's drive away from your hospital during internship is almost like a death sentence. At the end of a call, I could barely walk straight, much less weave my way through highway traffic.

So we talked to our landlady's son Gary about the situation around the Christmas holidays. (We never actually met our landlady, who lived in another city, but Gary was the go-to guy who managed all her properties.) Anyway, Gary said that if we wanted to get out of our lease early, it was no big deal and actually, it would be way easier for them to rent out the place at the beginning of the summer than at the end of the September, so we were kind of doing them a favor. Win win.

Fast forward to April:

We called Gary to remind him of our deal. He says he'll get back to us. We then get a phone call from the actual landlady, who we have never spoken to before in the seven months of having lived there. She outlined the following for us:

1) In all the many years she's been renting out apartments, nobody has ever left early on a lease.

2) We signed a contract in blood, so we better stick to it.

3) We are not allowed to sublet.

4) There was one couple once who tried to get out of lease early because the woman had a baby and there was no room for the baby in the apartment. And the landlady wouldn't let her out of the lease.

5) If we left early on this lease, we would never be able to rent an apartment ever again.

We really tried to negotiate. We offered to pay rent until they found someone new. We offered to pay half the remaining rent whether or not they found someone new. Anything to avoid paying a steep rent on a place we had moved out of months ago. But nothing was acceptable to them. Her other son finally got on the phone and told me, "If you get to leave, you'll be the first ones ever." (Just before that, he informed me I was "killing" his mother.)

Things got a little adversarial at that point. I started taking photos of things in the apartment and in the building that were unacceptable or dangerous and mailed the photos out with a letter detailing our complaints. They sent us back a letter that I thought admitted a little too much. Like you probably shouldn't write: "That live wiring covered in cobwebs that you photographed is too high up on the wall to be dangerous."

My husband got an email from someone at his school asking if anyone had a sublet available. Despite what it said in our lease, we decided to show them the apartment. Literally five minutes after the potential subletters left our place, we got a call from Gary saying, "You're not allowed to show the apartment to subletters." I was beyond creeped out.

At that point, I didn't care about the money or whatever trouble we'd be in. I just wanted out of that apartment. I didn't feel comfortable living there anymore.

We found a new apartment about five minutes away from my hospital. We rented a truck and quickly moved our stuff out on June 1. We cleaned the apartment, didn't give them any more rent money, and they kept our deposit. We were scared for a while of getting dragged to small claims court or something, but we never heard from them again.

The reason I write about this now is that I was talking to a friend who has a house in another state that she was renting out to a tenant. The tenant stopped paying the rent and continued living there. It took months for my friend to evict them. And even after evicting them, the law stated that she would have to pay herself for their belongings to be stored!

It just made me realize how much the law protects tenants and all that worry and aggravation was over nothing. In order to even attempt to get any money from us, they would have had to prove they attempted to rent out the apartment. And we could have countersued to get our deposit back. (And as my husband pointed out, then the crazy landlady would have been forced to make a court appearance.)

Of course, I was spooked enough by the whole thing not to write anything about it until I was sure the statute of limitations was up on the whole thing.


  1. Thank you for reminding me why I never EVER want to be a landlord.

  2. OMDG: Even not having ever experienced it, I think being a landlord is the absolute worst. We were saints compared to what other tenants do. Makes me glad that we own nothing and have no intention of buying in the near future.

  3. I JUST leased my first apartment and ended up in a great little two bedroom, but holy crap was it stressful. I almost signed two leases before this one and there were just a lot of bad vibes about it.

  4. I've heard it's really dependent on which state you live in. Some states are a lot more landlord-friendly than tenant-friendly, and viceversa. You have to know the real state laws before you lease.

  5. Dr. G: That's true. Although I think that of all the bad things that a tenant can do, leaving early on a lease is on the low end of the scale.

  6. Hmm.. I suddenly feel very appreciative of my last landlord who allowed me to walk away from our contract a few months before it had ended. That said, part of me dreads receiving a phonecall from an angry lawyer and a landlord that has suddenly changed his mind :S

  7. definitely a case-by-case issue -- or rather, city-by-city.

    our last place had far more landlord protections than tenants' protections. when faulty electrical wiring/grounding electrocuted my husband just a couple weeks into living there, we were told they had no liability unless it had killed him.

    when our furnace was broken (which they knew would happen, and didn't disclose) for two weeks in december (in wisconsin) with sub-freezing temperatures outside and thus sometimes inside, since the heat was out, the landlord slandered my character in public record when i complained and refused to offer any recompense for the lack of heat.

    the sad thing is that they were right -- there is nothing we could have done to make them do the "right" thing, because the laws were in their favor. =/