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Stressing about tenant breaking lease early.
February 17, 2013 12:49 PM   Subscribe

My tenant in my CA condo recently had his motorbike stolen. The condo's garage gate was under repair before he moved in and this was disclosed to him at the time of move in. It took a few months to have the gate repaired because of a part that was no longer available and the hoa had to install a new gate. What was supposed to be a few weeks of repair turned into a longer process because the old gate had to be removed and the new gate needed to be put in. But my tenant now wants to break his lease term because of the theft of his motorcycle and the distress it has caused him. He says that thieves have staked out and noticed his whereabouts and his family feels unsafe. He has emailed me a 30 day notice. There are 6 more months remaining on the lease term. Can you give me any advice on how to handle this situation carefully. Any attorney recommendations in Northern CA is much appreciated.
posted by gadget_gal to Law & Government (29 answers total)
 
I don't think it is worth trying to enforce the remaining time of this lease.
If you were to "win" you would then have an angry tenant for the next 6 months.
Let him out of it and spend your energy looking for a new tenant.
posted by calgirl at 12:53 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Oh wanted to add - the neighborhood is really safe. There was a theft about 10 years ago in the complex. Would it be reasonable to ask for 1 month's rent from the tenant after he moves out.
posted by gadget_gal at 12:54 PM on February 17, 2013


What does the lease your tenant signed say?
posted by winna at 12:59 PM on February 17, 2013


The lease has no breakage clause.
posted by gadget_gal at 1:01 PM on February 17, 2013


I can't give an attorney recommendation, but I wanted to note that the self-help page for California on Landlord/Tenant law has a lot of useful information, including a guide to finding an attorney.
posted by eleanna at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Find another tenant. Depending on what neighborhood you're in and the popularity of the area, this shouldn't be too difficult. You could shame the tenant into putting up an ad on craigslist for you... make him a little paranoid that something "bad" will happen if he doesn't find a tenant to take over by the time he moves out. Other than that, you're just going to piss yourself and your former tenant off.
posted by deanc at 1:04 PM on February 17, 2013


He doesn't feel safe, he suffered a significant loss. Be gracious and let him out of his lease.

And, as for your statement "the neighborhood is really safe", actually, there was a theft in the last six months, not all that safe, eh?

And, does the lease specify that it is a gated garage?
posted by HuronBob at 1:04 PM on February 17, 2013 [25 favorites]


This guy is not a happy camper now, and will be much less happy if you start playing hard ball with him and force him to live out his lease when he is feeling unsafe and ripped off. Did you have a verbal agreement that the gate would be fixed in a few weeks? Or did you disclose it could take several months? Was it written down in the lease? Does it really matter?

Speaking as someone who spent a long time both in distress and in court appearances over a break-in that occurred while I was home, due to my landlord's negligence, I think you have to take very seriously that you are damaging your tenant's peace of mind by forcing them to stay on.
posted by nanook at 1:29 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Are you really considering legal action against a tenant who doesn't feel safe in the building you own? That is not what I would call ethical ownership. Let him leave the lease, no conditions save leaving the unit clean and in good repair.
posted by Catchfire at 1:30 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The condo's garage gate was under repair before he moved in and this was disclosed to him at the time of move in.

The timeline here is unclear. It sounds like the gate was broken before he moved in, but you didn't let him know until he showed up on moving day with his stuff. Is that the case?

When he signed the lease, was the gate working? Was the repair planned?

I would be really upset if I were your tenant. A gate was not functioning for several months and he suffered a theft as a result. I would take him at his word that he feels unsafe and let him out of the lease.
posted by payoto at 1:32 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes i disclosed that the gate is broken before he signed the lease and moved in. The repair was happening when he moved in. But during the repair process, a few weeks became longer because of the model of the gate was no longer manufactured. So the repair company advised the HOA that a new gate has to be installed. The new gate was installed but it took 4 months due to the process of getting in bids and finding the right vendor and gate that fitted our type of garage.

The tenant fully knew that the gate was broken prior to his move in. He assured me that in his prior apartment he had parked outside with no garage and seemed to have no concerns on motorbike theft. I was more concerned as a landlord about it. He assured me that he had insurance. He really wanted to move in because of the school district for his children.

The gates can break, during a tenant's occupancy and is really out of my control. It could happen again. How can i as the landlord guarantee a safe apartment. Unfortunately the bike was stolen. I am completely ok with letting him go from the lease before 6 months.

However, I would like to ask for a 1 month rent deposit. If I find a tenant in 15 day, then I am happy to give him back the 15 day rent. I depend on the rent to pay mortgage. If I don't find a tenant in 30 days, then i will no longer hold him responsible. I feel that this is fair. But need confidence that it is ethical.
posted by gadget_gal at 1:48 PM on February 17, 2013


I think it's perfectly ethical. However, since you don't have a breakage clause, I don't know that he'll have to pay up. Every time I've seen someone break a lease, they had a breakage clause, and either paid up or found a new tenant to finish out their lease.
posted by DoubleLune at 1:55 PM on February 17, 2013


Don't let your tenant bully or shame you into letting him out of a lease which he signed that has no provisions for letting him out early without looking into your rights as a landlord. Most landlord tenant clinics will help landlords as well as tenants, although it's typically more difficult for landlords to meet the income threshholds. The clinics will be able to refer you to a private attorney or give you self-help guides.

This situation sucks; I'm sorry he got robbed, but mailing you 30 days notice of intent to break a lease which does not permit him to break it does not mean he gets to break his lease. You are also facing a significant loss here and enforcing your contractual rights does not make you a bad person, unsympathetic or mean.
posted by crush-onastick at 1:55 PM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


Most boilerplate leases have an arbitration clause. Does yours not have one? Regardless, due to the inconvenience, I would request a 45-day notice, and offer in writing to refund him any money should you find a new tenant before then. This essentially gives you two months to find a new tenant, and you are being gracious enough to split the risk should it take you two full months to do so.

My understanding of California law is that a tenant can submit a 30-day notice any time, contingent on the fact that he is not under lease. If you have a legitimate reason for thinking that your apartment will be difficult to lease in a short amount of time, or if you are going to be indisposed for any particular reason - say, you are out of the country - then I think it's fair to ask for a little more wiggle room, as long as you are doing so in good faith.

Knock on wood, you'll find a new tenant immediately and you will both walk away from this happy. This is pretty simple.
posted by phaedon at 1:55 PM on February 17, 2013


IANACL. Generally speaking a tenant who breaks a lease is on the hook for the remainder of the lease term, but the landlord has a duty to mitigate damages. This means you need to start looking for a new tenant ASAP. The tenant has given you 30 days, so it's possible that neither of you will be out any money at all if you act now.

Landlord-tenant law is very local so you really need to visit eleanna's link to read up on the law yourself and/or find a landlord-tenant attorney in your city to help you. There can be penalties for any missteps; for example, under some landlord-tenant laws if you were to keep his security deposit you'd be on the hook for double or triple damages. So get real advice and be careful. The fact that you don't have a cushion to pay the mortgage doesn't change anything.
posted by payoto at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would like to ask for a 1 month rent deposit. If I find a tenant in 15 day, then I am happy to give him back the 15 day rent

The tenant isn't moving out for 30 days. I am sure you can find a replacement tenant before that 30 days is up. If you find a tenant before the month is up and then try to avoid returning his deposit on that basis, he may take you to small claims court to get it back.

In cities where it is hard to find tenants, particularly "off-cycle", leases are serious things. If you're in, say, the San Francisco Bay Area, tenants and landlords both know that there will be a line 20 people long willing to sign a lease that begins at the start of the next month, and there's an expectation that as long as there's someone available to rent the apartment by the first of the month after the first tenant moves out, everything is copasetic.
posted by deanc at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


However, I would like to ask for a 1 month rent deposit. If I find a tenant in 15 day, then I am happy to give him back the 15 day rent. I depend on the rent to pay mortgage. If I don't find a tenant in 30 days, then i will no longer hold him responsible. I feel that this is fair. But need confidence that it is ethical.

I am a landlord, although not in California, and I have also broken a lease (also not in California). This seems reasonable to me: if you haven't rented out the apartment by the time their next month's rent is due---and if you are really making a concerted, good-faith effort to rent the place---then asking for another month's rent seems reasonable, especially if you're willing to prorate the rent back when you rent the place. But you have to be operating in good faith.

But if you're planning on being a landlord long-term, it might be helpful to pay a hundred dollars or so to an attorney who specializes in landlord-tenant law to consult with you about various issues, like what a good (and legal) lease looks like, and how to handle when folks need to break a lease, etc., so you're sure you're doing everything by the book. And speaking of the book, many states have a landlord-tenant handbook, which lists everyone's responsibilities.

(FWIW, I think this is kind of a crappy reason to break a lease, but there's no percentage in being a jerk about it, because you don't really want cranky = crappy tenants.)
posted by leahwrenn at 2:47 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Generally speaking a tenant who breaks a lease is on the hook for the remainder of the lease term, but the landlord has a duty to mitigate damages. This means you need to start looking for a new tenant ASAP. The tenant has given you 30 days, so it's possible that neither of you will be out any money at all if you act now.

Yes, it is in both your best interests to have you get a new tenant. The current tenant should accommodate showings (24 hours notice, keep the place clean and tidy) and you should post the vacancy on craigslist/hang a sign and do everything to get a new tenant.
posted by shoesietart at 2:55 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm in CA, I used to deal with these issues professionally.

Housing stock is low is SF, you'll find a tenant before the month is out. Do so.

While the lease gives you some wiggle room, not having a gate for FOUR MONTHS is (sorry) bullshit. Your HOA did you wrong here. If your building has been unsecured for over four months, shame on you and the HOA. Really.

If all of the owners decide they don't care about security, so be it. Your tenant has protections under the law.

Pray your tenant doesn't take you and your HOA to court for the loss of his bike (his insurance company may come after someone if he had theft coverage, anyway) and he might be due damages or compensation, especially if he repeatedly complained to you about the gate and it is documented.

(apologies if you are not in SF, but you should still start looking for a tenant and treat this guy politely and professionally as he moves out.)
posted by jbenben at 4:10 PM on February 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


I've never been a landlord, but I've had to break leases twice. The first time, the landlord would have kept me on the hook for the remainder of the lease, but I helped him find a new tenant before I moved out so it wasn't an issue. The second time, the landlord let me out of the lease but kept the deposit until he found someone new, which was 2 months.

How long do you think it would take you to find a new tenant? If you could reasonably expect to find one within a month of the old tenant moving out, then I'd go with what my second landlord did (obviously, get the tenant to agree so he doesn't get bent out of shape about the deposit). You don't want an angry tenant in your place for 6 months - he could end up causing way more damage (not to mention stress) than a month or two of rent.
posted by lunasol at 4:16 PM on February 17, 2013


The standard response for a landlord whose tenant wants to quit early (for whatever reason) is to start advertising for a new tenant. If you find one, then things are OK. If it takes a bit of time, then you theoretically have a claim for the rent for the period in between. You can then decide if you want to pursue that claim. You can let it go if you choose. The biggest point is: you don't have to decide today, or tomorrow.
posted by yclipse at 4:48 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's not his fault that the repair process took longer than usual. As the landlord, it's your responsibility to make sure that all repairs, maintenance issues, and other related concerns are done appropriately. You told the tenant that the gate was broken, but did you promise that it would be fixed within a few weeks? If so, he took you at your word and you did not deliver. If not, it still doesn't matter. Once you learned that it was going to take longer than usual to fix the problem, it was your responsibility to take protective measures to ensure the garage's security. If the neighborhood is really as safe as you say it is, why have a gate to begin with? Obviously it's not completely safe and the tenant was hurt as a result of your inability to follow-through with a timely solution to the problem.

Furthermore, you don't have any clause that explains the conditions or consequences for breaking a lease, so I think you have little ground to stand on if you want to take some sort of action against this man and his family. I certainly would be fearful if the thieves were staking out my home, so I'm not surprised his family feels unsafe as a result of what happened.

Let the guy out of his lease and move on.
posted by satine at 5:54 PM on February 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


If he really thinks that thieves are following him he's a nutcase and you probably want him gone anyway. Barring other signs of mental illness that sounds like an excuse, they may have bought a house or found something cheaper. Are you sure the bike was stolen?
posted by fshgrl at 6:04 PM on February 17, 2013


As a motorcyclist who has had a motorcycle stolen from behind a functioning gate, I have little sympathy for your tenant. Motorcycles get stolen, especially from multi-tenant buildings, and especially in California. If this fellow didn't take secondary measures, it's my opinion that he didn't do basic due diligence in securing his goods. I don't think he's responsible for the criminal action of someone else, but I don't think you are either. Theft of a motorcycle is not an indicator for safety any more than tree coverage is.

I am dubious of his motives, and if I were you, I'd tell him to pound sand. If he wants to find you a replacement tenant, you should graciously permit him to break the lease without penalty. Otherwise, he's on the hook under the terms of the contract he signed without duress and as a competent adult.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 6:07 PM on February 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


This rental came with SECURE parking, but did not deliver.

The law provides the tenant remedies that start with notifying the landlord of the issue to be addressed, to escalating to whatever agency oversees infractions and reduction of services (lack of secured parking when that was a feature of the original agreement qualifies) and the landlord can be cited and/or the tenant can be awarded a rent reduction if the issue was not fixed in a timely manner (four months is too long - this situation qualifies.)

------
On a related note, I am currently renting. Our parking garage gate broke a while back on a Thursday, the landlord tried to put off the repair until the following week. A homeless person entered our building through the open gate, defacated in the backyard, and was found Saturday morning sleeping in the laundry room. We were lucky nothing was stolen, vandalized, and that there were no break-ins.

The gate was fixed that Saturday.
----

Having an unsecured building specifically due to an unrepaired gate or door is a HUGE violation under rent laws in nearly all jurisdictions.

Again, if the owners in this condo building were cool with the lack of security, that's their choice.

Once a rental is involved in the situation, state and local tenant laws are in play.

----

I once had a female tenant on the ground floor of a building, there was a "peeping tom" in the neighborhood that harrassed her. We installed motion detectors. Then, she had a break-in via her sliding glass patio door on the side of the building that was already well lighted, as it faced the common areas.

We had no other incidents with her adjacent neighbors during this episode.

I GLADLY allowed her to break her lease.

We've never ever had problems at that particular building before or since this episode. I thank god something worse did not happen to this young woman. The police were involved, but they couldn't do much, even though they took fingerprints, etc.
----

When you are a landlord, sometimes things go south. The cheapest way out of this is to accept the 30 Day Notice and advertise the rental. The most practical way out of this is to accept the 30 Day Notice and advertise the rental.

Maybe criminals have targeted this family and building, or maybe not.

OP, for your purposes, it doesn't really matter if the tenant is conflating issues, or if you can force them to stick around now, because they are in a good position to file complaints or possibly take you to court.

The well is poisoned. Your HOA failed to secure the building.


Walk away with professionalism and wish them good luck.

Heck, I don't know how HOA's work, but you might also be entitled to damages because four months to fix a carpark gate is supreme and utter bullshit. No, really. There is no defensible reason for it.

Count your blessings that nothing worse than a stolen motorcycle is at play here and walk away from this agreement gracefully. Find a new tenant.

The end.
posted by jbenben at 9:53 PM on February 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


If I were you, I would sort out what were my true and realistic needs in this situation, and which parts were anger and discomfort. You need to pay the mortgage; you are worried situations out of your control, like this one, might recur; you're a little annoyed with the tenant for being paranoid and breaking his lease. The feelings are normal, though I don't think you have to worry about this particular situation recurring; the mortgage is the thing to solve.

I think the easiest and best thing is to let him go and put your energies into finding a new tenant.

If you don't feel you can do that, I might ask him to share the cost of the empty apartment 50/50 for a month after he moves, i.e., if the place is open for ten days after he moves out, he pays five days' worth of rent. My reasoning here is that you are both a little at fault (you for not providing a gate in a timely manner; him for breaking his lease) and it's reasonable to try and share the burden. You could also ask him to help you advertise the place.

Good luck, gadget_gal.
posted by feets at 1:46 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


You've got some good advice here. Let the guy move out, get a new tenant.

In future leases put in a lease break clause, 30 or 60 days, or however many days it takes you to find someone new and move them in.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:37 AM on February 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


jbenben, you said...
This rental came with SECURE parking, but did not deliver.
The law provides the tenant remedies...
(snip)
Having an unsecured building specifically due to an unrepaired gate or door is a HUGE violation under rent laws in nearly all jurisdictions.
(snip)
Once a rental is involved in the situation, state and local tenant laws are in play.
(snip)
Heck, I don't know how HOA's work, but you might also be entitled to damages...
That's an awful lot of very specific advice and claims of legal fact with little in the way of evidence interspersed with a whole lot of anecdata. Are you an attorney? Are you familiar with the OP's specific legal situation and applicable local law?
posted by TheNewWazoo at 3:21 PM on February 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Thanks everyone. I consulted with a few attorneys here. They all say there is no negligence case here. Garage theft of motorbikes is unfortunately a common incident in cities like mine.

If the tenant wishes to waste everyone's time and money, he can sue but is unlikely to win. For my part, I have decided to let him out of the lease. Best for both of us to move on. And many lessons have been learnt.
posted by gadget_gal at 4:05 PM on February 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


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