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posted: 7/10/2011 12:01 AM

Rental forum: A win-win way to break lease

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Q. We have been renting an apartment for nearly two years. When our lease expired last fall, we signed a new 12-month lease that runs through October. Currently, our adult daughter lives with us and is paying one-third of our total rent. She has decided that she will be moving to her own apartment in early August.

Unfortunately, I lost my job several months ago and I am still unemployed. Up to now we have been on time with all our lease payments but will not be able to afford the full rent without my daughter's contribution. We have contacted the landlord and explained the situation. Also, my wife and I have found an apartment for seniors that we can afford, and we would like to move as soon as possible.

Our landlord has agreed to meet with us in a couple of weeks to negotiate a lease termination. The lease form is a standard industry document used by brokers, and our landlord is in real estate. We would welcome any suggestions that you might have.

A. The specifics of your dilemma are unique, but the overall challenge you face is very common. You are in a lease that you voluntarily signed with your landlord last fall and now you have had a personal change of circumstances and want to break the lease approximately three months early. You have already contacted your landlord, which is good, as he may be willing to work with you, especially if the local rental market is good. Of course, just like the job market, there are very few places where the rental market has such demand that your apartment will be immediately re-rented.

So you could find yourself stuck paying rent until the end of the lease. If so, then it makes no sense to relocate to the seniors' property at this time, as you have a legally binding lease.

You didn't indicate whether your adult daughter is also a signer on the lease or what, if any, agreement you have made with her to live in the apartment. If she is on the lease, then she is also responsible for the rent until the lease expires. If she is not on the lease, then you have an internal family issue that you may or may not want to address.

It is too late now, but I would have recommended that you have a written agreement with your adult daughter just like you would with any roommate to make sure that she fulfills her commitment. To an outsider, without knowing all of the facts or family dynamics, it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect her to stay until the lease expires. If she must move because of a job or the military or some legitimate reason that cannot be postponed, then maybe she can help by continuing to pay the one-third of the rent for a few more months.

Using basic math, her one-third share for the last three months of the lease is equivalent to a full month's rent, and maybe that is something that she can afford, as she was likely saving a lot on living expenses by sharing an apartment with you and your wife.

The bottom line here is your landlord has honored his commitment to lease you the apartment for 12 months, and you are the one who is hoping your landlord will now tear up a binding lease because the apartment no longer meets the needs of you and your family. I have empathy for your challenging state of affairs, as life situations are constantly subject to change. But in hindsight you should have just gone with a month-to-month rental agreement or negotiated the ability to terminate your lease with a penalty that you could afford so that you would have some flexibility.

I suggest you decide what responsibility your adult daughter has and what she will be able to contribute to a solution. Then see what you and your wife can do from savings or credit so that you can finish out the last few months of your lease. If your landlord is willing, then maybe you can negotiate an early termination clause that is mutually satisfactory.

For example, if you offered to pay rent for the next 45 days after you vacate and your daughter pays her traditional share, then the landlord may be able to get your apartment ready and re-rented. Don't forget that you are going to have to pay some rent even at the seniors' property so the net difference probably isn't that much money.

However, if you don't reach an acceptable agreement with your landlord and you just move out soon after your daughter leaves, then your landlord has to try to re-rent your apartment, but all signers on the lease remain responsible through the end of the lease. You could also try to sublet the apartment yourself, but that may be difficult and your landlord would still have to approve of the new proposed tenant.

Q. I have rented a home for six years now with only minor things ever being fixed. Usually, I fix it and take it off the rent. Can my landlord increase my rent without any upgrades?

A. Yes, unless the property is subject to rent control. Certainly any upgrades to the rental unit would likely lead to a rent increase, as the landlord needs to recover his capital expenses in making the upgrades. However, the rent is not only tied to the cost of upgrades but also represents a return on investment for the property owner, and periodic increases will also cover the increased costs of being a landlord, such as inflation and properties getting older and needing more repairs.

Let me also comment on your informal agreement with your landlord that you will take care of some of the maintenance work at your rental unit and the landlord will accept your rent minus the cost of the repairs you made. That may be fine if you have the skills and make sure the repairs are done properly. However, it is not ideal, as the landlord should make sure that the unit is in good clean condition and the work meets local building standards and codes.

• Property manager Robert Griswold is author of "Property Management for Dummies." Email rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011, Inman News Features$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

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