Can landlord take us to court to recoup rent when we're moving out at his request due to violating zoning laws?
June 3, 2009 2:34 PM   Subscribe

Moving out of rental house because landlord's lease violates zoning laws, can he bring us to court to get rent?

About 6 months ago myself and 5 friends moved into a house in Arlington VA and signed a year-long lease with all 6 of us specified on the contract.

Unfortunately it's zoned as a residential single family home which in Arlington means no more than 4 unrelated individuals can live there. The zoning inspector came once and did an inspection which we passed as our landlord had us transform two bedrooms to look like storage and an office. A couple of months have passed since then and the zoning board has received more complaints from the neighborhood that there are 6 people in the house. The zoning inspector then contacted our landlord again and told him they would sue/fine him if he didn't rectify the situation.

The landlord spoke with one of my roommates about a week and a half ago and asked if we could find another place. He said we could stay till the end of June. Lucky for us we found a place within a week and will be moving out this weekend. Unlucky for him as he won't have any tenants to pay him for June. He's expressed to us that he's very disappointed because he expected us to stay through June and also expected us to give him 30 days notice when we found a new place.

Clearly it's absurd for him to be upset with us as finding a new place and subsequently moving there is quite a hassle for us. Either way I'm worried he may try to pull some shady move with our security deposit (1.5x our monthly rent) or get a lawyer involved to recoup the rent for June.

Any advice for what steps we should take now / legal footing we have to stand on?
posted by phishie to Law & Government (49 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If he sues you won't it come out in court that he has been violating the law? Presumably the fines associated with him violating zoning laws are greater than the amount of money you would owe him, and, if he has any common sense he would just assume that the rent he thought he would receive from you is money he will never see
posted by dfriedman at 2:37 PM on June 3, 2009


I believe the fees he would accumulate for us remaining in the house through September would be less or comparable to the rent he's losing for June. What I'm mostly worried about is if the lease we signed with him can still be considered valid and binding in court. Especially with no material evidence that he asked us to move out.
posted by phishie at 2:42 PM on June 3, 2009


I'm confused. Are all six of you moving out, or just two of you? Did the landlord request that all of you move out, or just two of you? And if four of you are staying in the house, why aren't they still bound by the terms of the original lease?
posted by Johnny Assay at 2:44 PM on June 3, 2009


And on top of that he could very well end up with some kind of fraud charge. Getting you to change the look of the apartment to circumvent the law? I'm guessing he won't press too much.

Was once in a similar situation. Landlord had me and some roommates on the hook for three months on a lease. He threatened to take us to court.

We had 9 months of documented repairs that had gone unaddressed, and a whole book of code violations (dead bats and squirrels in the attic from an unreplaced window, exposed wiring without insulation, etc.).

My roommate hired a lawyer who said if he went to court we'd probably get our 9 months rent back (or at least a portion) for substandard living conditions.

We got our deposits.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:45 PM on June 3, 2009


I think you're probably out your deposit unless you take HIM to court (which I think you would probably win). You can always point out that you expected that the place he rented to you would be legal, and you wouldn't be evicted early, which in effect is what just happened.

Keep negotiating, but start documenting stuff (like a certified letter to him about WHY you're moving, and a request for the immediate and full refund of your security deposit). Start a paper trail in case you need to take him to court.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 2:48 PM on June 3, 2009


Make sure you have a record of the lease agreement, any written conversations between your landlord and you (the renters), and any write-ups from the inspections. If you have a lease agreement that clearly lists six unrelated people, you have proof your landlord knowingly rented to place in an illegal fashion. It would be even better if you had some record that the landlord wanted you to conceal the fact that there were as many bedrooms as you were using.

The one thing to check is who has the burden of following the law. Is it illegal to rent to six unrelated people in a single family residence? Or is it illegal for six unrelated people to stay in one single family residence? Call up the local planning department and ask this, if you are not sure. From this directory, it looks like the phone number to call is 703-228-3800. If not, they should know who to talk to.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:52 PM on June 3, 2009


He'll keep your security deposit if you don't pay June rent, having not given him 30 days notice. You could take him to court, but I doubt you'll end up any better off than you are now. I'd just write it off.
posted by decathecting at 2:58 PM on June 3, 2009


All 6 of us are moving out. Thanks for the info filthy light theif I'll definitely give them a call tomorrow. I'm fairly certain the burden is on him.

I most definitely will not write off the security deposit, $7000 will not get thrown out the window without a fight. He's at least giving the appearance he will hand it over as he's scheduled to do a walk-thru inspection next week to assess how the house looks.
posted by phishie at 3:03 PM on June 3, 2009


I don't understand how he can claim to be upset about not having 30-days notice from us when he's the one asking us to move out. We're mitigating our risk by finding a house ASAP, god-forbid we have to scramble around the last week of June to find a place.
posted by phishie at 3:06 PM on June 3, 2009


Wait a second -- he said "hey, could you guys move out by July 1" and you said "hey, screw you, we're out right now?" I understand you're pissed about having to move and the fact that the landlord was circumventing zoning laws, but you were benefiting from it by being able to split the rent six ways instead of four and you were complicit in the deception by altering the rooms so they didn't look like bedrooms. Now you're trying to get out of your responsibility for June rent simply by pointing at the other guy and saying "But he was breaking other rules, so I don't have to live up to my responsibility!"

What I'm mostly worried about is if the lease we signed with him can still be considered valid and binding in court.

It's not clear that a zoning violation negates a lease. Part of the problem, though, is that he asked you to leave, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO. You have a year lease, and that's your responsibility. It's his responsibility to pay the fines. From a contract law perspective, I think you're on the hook for the rent at the very least.

And on top of that [the landlord] could very well end up with some kind of fraud charge

Isn't that also true for the tenants? They were complicit in the deception.

...We had 9 months of documented repairs that had gone unaddressed, and a whole book of code violations.

This is an entirely different situation -- is the house uninhabitable? No, it's just a zoning violation. It remains a perfectly fine place to live.

Pay June rent, or you're a jerk.
posted by incessant at 3:10 PM on June 3, 2009


Wait a second -- he said "hey, could you guys move out by July 1" and you said "hey, screw you, we're out right now?" ....Now you're trying to get out of your responsibility for June rent simply by pointing at the other guy and saying "But he was breaking other rules, so I don't have to live up to my responsibility!"

Actually, this is what the posted question said:

"The landlord spoke with one of my roommates about a week and a half ago and asked if we could find another place. He said we could stay till the end of June."


It's not clear that a zoning violation negates a lease. Part of the problem, though, is that he asked you to leave, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE TO. You have a year lease, and that's your responsibility.

Um...no...the LANDLORD ASKED THEM TO LEAVE - sure, it's not an actual eviction, but it's certainly not the OPs responsibility to stick to the terms of the original lease in this circumstance.

Pay June rent, or you're a jerk.

If they pay June rent, they're a schmuck.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 3:35 PM on June 3, 2009


it's certainly not the OPs responsibility to stick to the terms of the original lease in this circumstance.

Why not? The lease is still valid. The tenants agreed to pay a certain amount a month for one year. Were the city fining the tenants, then clearly the tenants have cause (legally and ethically) for giving the landlord the finger. But nothing bad is happening to the tenants because of this -- only to the landlord. And let's not forget that the tenants were beneficiaries of the rule-breaking (and complicit in it during the fraudulent inspection). The tenants are doing the landlord a favor by leaving, but they don't have to -- their contract (the lease) states that they'll stay until September. When you say it's not an actual eviction, we need to underline that. It's not an actual eviction! He didn't evict the tenants -- he asked them to go. That's not an eviction, that's a request.

If they pay June rent, they're a schmuck.

The landlord requested to break the lease and terminate it July 1, and he gave you more than 30 days notice. You agreed, but then decided to ditch right away and terminate the lease with less than 30 days notice. I'm thinking more and more that a court would find you're legally liable for June rent, schmuck, jerk, or no.
posted by incessant at 3:51 PM on June 3, 2009


The landlord requested to break the lease and terminate it July 1, and he gave you more than 30 days notice. You agreed, but then decided to ditch right away and terminate the lease with less than 30 days notice. I'm thinking more and more that a court would find you're legally liable for June rent, schmuck, jerk, or no.

I don't agree (obviously) - the landlord requested to break the lease, gave them a deadline to be out by, and they found a place within the time limit. I don't see how they could possibly be held responsible for the situation or the lost rent. 30 days notice is required on the landlord's part in this instance, not the renter.

And...depending on where the OP lives, the landlord might actually be required to offer them another unit that is equal or better to the previous rental if there is a reason that the renters are prevented from staying in their original unit for the length of the lease.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 4:23 PM on June 3, 2009


The landlord requested to break the lease and terminate it July 1, and he gave you more than 30 days notice. You agreed, but then decided to ditch right away and terminate the lease with less than 30 days notice. I'm thinking more and more that a court would find you're legally liable for June rent, schmuck, jerk, or no.

First of all: The landlord gave then ~39 days to get out. Him then expecting 30 days notice from them before they may move out would force them to restrict their rental options to finding a new place that will let them move within a tiny 9-day window dictated by the prior landlord's convenience - this burden is entirely unreasonable by any standards of common sense.

Secondly, while it will depend on the wording of the contract, 30 days notice is to forewarn the landlord when the leaser decides to move out. If a landlord decides to break the lease and get people to leave, it makes no sense that he would require forewarning of his own actions.

Thirdly, if the landlord's decision has financial repercussions for the landlord, then that is the landlord's responsibility. It should not be up to those affected by the landlords decision to undertake unnecessary additional burden to soften the consequences of his actions for him.

Fourth, you note that it is a request, not a requirement, and I think you are correct. And I think the landlord is aware of this. But I suspect the flatmate was not informed of this during the conversation with the landlord - he was told that the landlord could give them until July 1 to find somewhere else.

Requests do not come with deadlines.

You agree that notice is not required for an eviction. The renters are not lawyers. If they are told by their landlord that they are being booted out, it is quite reasonable for them to act as if they are being booted out.
posted by -harlequin- at 4:24 PM on June 3, 2009


The landlord requested to break the lease and terminate it July 1, and he gave you more than 30 days notice. You agreed, but then decided to ditch right away and terminate the [illegal] lease with less than 30 days notice. I'm thinking more and more that a court would find you're legally liable for June rent, schmuck, jerk, or no.

You're fine. Many jurisdictions award attorney's fees to the winners of landlord tenant disputes. Call a lawyer and check if yours is one. You might get a lawyer to take the case on contingency...
posted by the christopher hundreds at 4:31 PM on June 3, 2009


To me, with my gut, as a lawyer, but not yours and not giving legal advice: it sounds like it may hinge on whether you AGREED to stay until the end of June. I've been mulling this over for a couple hours.

As a result of an external force (zoning violation), he requested to terminate your lease early, specifically at the end of June. If you agreed to modify the lease to the June termination date(*), then you are bound to pay June rent. If you agreed to modify the lease to an "immediate" termination day, and the June date was a mere bonus/incidental, you are likely not bound to pay June rent.

In either instance, I would act on the assumption that the landlord will retain the security deposit, and you will then have to file a claim for its return. The fact that the external force is an extraneous action not (I assume) in violation of a lease term, though the zoning violation a legal matter, is not relevant. I would, if I were you, be VERY careful in documenting the condition of the apartment on move-out, and do every single detail in writing, and meticulously correct, to build up a record for the claim you may have to make. I anticipate that whether you agreed to terminate the lease at the end of June, or rather to move immediately, would be relevant. If the landlord acts the good guy and returns the deposit, all the better.

(*) And setting aside whether the oral agreement was sufficient to modify the prior written agreement.

IAAL, IANYL, I do not handle property, landlord/tenant, or similar law even a tiny little teensy little bit.
posted by bunnycup at 4:50 PM on June 3, 2009


Thank you, bunnycup. I feel as though up until your post, the rest of us were just writing for Modern Jackass.
posted by incessant at 5:14 PM on June 3, 2009


Lots of information at the Arlington CPHD Tenant/Landlord Rights and Responsibilities page. In this case what applies is going to depend on whether the land lord has more than 4 rental units. Reading the tenant act I think you need a lawyer or at least someone familiar with local law and interpretation.

incessant writes "Pay June rent, or you're a jerk."

In BC if your landlord terminates your lease early for something like this you can say sayanara that afternoon and owe them nothing. Heck depending on the circumstances the landlord may have to pay compensation. Which seems fair, it the landlord that is causing the problem here not the tenants.
posted by Mitheral at 5:46 PM on June 3, 2009


First of all: The landlord gave then ~39 days to get out. Him then expecting 30 days notice from them before they may move out would force them to restrict their rental options to finding a new place that will let them move within a tiny 9-day window dictated by the prior landlord's convenience - this burden is entirely unreasonable by any standards of common sense.

What? Even if they gave notice in nine days they still had thirty days after that to find a place. Thirty days notice means that you move out in thirty days, not the day you give the notice.
posted by oneirodynia at 6:19 PM on June 3, 2009


bunnycup, the landlord did not request to terminate at the end of June, but by the end of June. Turned around a little bit, since the lease did not actually expire at the end of June the landlord led the tenants to believe that there would be no penalty for breaking the lease before its term was up.
posted by rhizome at 7:43 PM on June 3, 2009


Shoot, my first thought is that you may have a case to sue HIM for moving expenses. Not your fault he lied and knowingly rented you an illegal house, he screwed you over by forcing you to scramble and find a new place on short notice when you had every reasonable expectation that your home would be fine for a year upon moving in as the lease dictated.

The fact that he asked you to rearrange the house so you could help him trick the zoning inspector? Double uncool, as well. I don't know what the charges he would be up against are, but in some areas you may be considered partly legally responsible for your assistance.

I don't think he'll go after you in court, he's up the proverbial creek right now. If he goes after you and that comes out he's going to wind up in even worse shape.
posted by Kellydamnit at 7:51 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


IANAL. I used to be a landlord. It seems to me that the lease is invalid because it was illegal for him to make the contract. Tell him you're considering suing for damages since you have the hassle and expense of moving and it's his fault.
posted by theora55 at 7:57 PM on June 3, 2009


bunnycup, the landlord did not request to terminate at the end of June, but by the end of June. Turned around a little bit, since the lease did not actually expire at the end of June the landlord led the tenants to believe that there would be no penalty for breaking the lease before its term was up.

This is exactly the way we felt. After talking to my roommate who had the conversation with him it went something like this:

Roommate calls landlord after zoning inspector stops by.
Roommate: The zoning inspector came back and says they need to do more inspections because they are still getting complaints.
Landlod: Yea you guys should probably look for another house to live in, I was actually thinking about moving into the house with my wife anyways.
Roommate: OK, yea we started looking already when the zoning guy came by.
Landlord: OK great.
Roommate: But we might need some time to find a place.
Landlord: Yea you guys could stay till the end of June.

The insinuation from this conversation was that we should look for a new place to live as soon as possible, and we could use the month of June to find it if we needed.

It's funny because at that point we were already discusssing the notion that we weren't going to pay him full rent for June (even if it took us all month to find a place). The process of finding a new house, singing a lease, and moving all our posessions/furniture is extremely inconvienent.
posted by phishie at 8:39 PM on June 3, 2009


$7000 will not get thrown out the window without a fight

For that kind of money, why are you wasting time with us internets? Get thee to a lawyer.

The lease is illegal and therefore unenforceable. In my state this is explicit. You are owed your security deposit back, at least.
posted by dhartung at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


IANAL. I used to be a landlord. It seems to me that the lease is invalid because it was illegal for him to make the contract. Tell him you're considering suing for damages since you have the hassle and expense of moving and it's his fault.

This is exactly the issue I'm struggling to find an answer for (in Virginia). Understanding that the lease violates zoning regulations I don't believe the landlord nor the zoning board can legally evict us. Can we evict ourselves? Hypothetically speaking, if we can't, are we liable for the remaining rent if we "abandon" the house?

Of course these are all questions I'm asking without considering the fact he actually asked us to leave.

[In terms of material evidence we may not have that on record but he did tell the zoning inspector we were going to move out so we can always get a statement from him if necessary.]
posted by phishie at 8:58 PM on June 3, 2009


For that kind of money, why are you wasting time with us internets? Get thee to a lawyer.

The lease is illegal and therefore unenforceable. In my state this is explicit. You are owed your security deposit back, at least.


I've inquired with a couple who have not gotten back to me yet. Also the kind of person I was hoping to "run into" on AskMeFi.
posted by phishie at 9:00 PM on June 3, 2009


The fact that he asked you to rearrange the house so you could help him trick the zoning inspector?... in some areas you may be considered partly legally responsible for your assistance.

In every area you'll be considered responsible for your assistance in the fraud. You won't be prosecuted, but you're still complicity in the deception. That, to me, is the smoking gun.

The lease is illegal and therefore unenforceable.

This is not true. The lease violates a zoning law, but it is not illegal. Violation and illegality are different. Contractually, the lease is still valid. What would happen if you didn't move? No one could make you leave, actually -- just the landlord would be on the hook for the fines. Neither the city nor the landlord can evict you simply because the lease violates the zoning law. The city can fine the crap out of the landlord, and the landlord doesn't have to renew your lease at the end of the term, but you can't be evicted. You can't 'evict' yourselves -- as you say, that's abandoning the lease, and in that case you'll be on the hook for the balance of the lease.

I'm a renter. I don't have a lot of money. I've dealt with some pretty shitty landlords. I say these things so that you know when I tell you that you're being a jerk by trying to get out of paying June rent, you know that I'm not doing it just because I'm some rich asshole. Seriously, you're being a jerk.

But really, unless we're lawyers or otherwise have professional knowledge about this stuff, we're all writing for Modern Jackass.
posted by incessant at 10:22 PM on June 3, 2009


incessant writes "No one could make you leave, actually -- just the landlord would be on the hook for the fines. Neither the city nor the landlord can evict you simply because the lease violates the zoning law. The city can fine the crap out of the landlord, and the landlord doesn't have to renew your lease at the end of the term, but you can't be evicted."

Ya, actually the city can pull the occupancy permit for zoning non compliance. This means the sheriff comes along and kicks the occupants onto the street. And once the fines reach $5000 they can file misdemeanour charges against the landlord. Both of these things rarely happen but you better hope the house isn't across the street from the Mayor's aunt or something.
posted by Mitheral at 12:10 AM on June 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


But really, unless we're lawyers or otherwise have professional knowledge about this stuff, we're all writing for Modern Jackass.

If that's all the confidence you can muster after insisting, multiple times, that the OP is a jerk for trying to avoid paying the skeezy landlord money he's not entitled to, maybe you should keep it to yourself next time.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 12:56 AM on June 4, 2009


I'm a renter. I don't have a lot of money. I've dealt with some pretty shitty landlords. I say these things so that you know when I tell you that you're being a jerk by trying to get out of paying June rent, you know that I'm not doing it just because I'm some rich asshole. Seriously, you're being a jerk.

I don't know what you don't understand about the fact he asked us to move. There was never a clear arrangement we would stay or pay for June, only that we could have till the end of June (implied: if we needed) to find a place.

Why isn't the landlord a jerk for signing us to a lease which violates zoning laws and subsequently asking us to move out for him? Do you understand how much of an inconvenience it is to move 6 people at the drop of a hat? Do you understand there's a significant expense, both time- and $$$-wise, for all of us to move half way through our lease?

You're posts are infuriating.
posted by phishie at 6:34 AM on June 4, 2009


And my use of you're instead of your is equally as infuriating haha.
posted by phishie at 7:04 AM on June 4, 2009


Roommate: But we might need some time to find a place.
Landlord: Yea you guys could stay till the end of June.


Right, I get that - but "Roommate" did not hang up immediately after that statement, I assume. So the question is, what did "Roommate" then say?

Did "Roommate" say "Okay, thank you"? Okay might be interpreted as agreement, and result in a finding that "Roommate" agreed to stay through the end of June. Without an express offer by the landlord to waive the rent for June but let you stay anyway, I would tend to think that would result in the obligation to pay for June.

Did "Roommate" say "We are going to move immediately, but appreciate your flexibility"? That might result in a conclusion that the lease was terminated immediately.

By deliberately not telling us what "Roommate" said next, you seem to me to be attempting to CONVINCE those who took the time to attempt to answer and aid you here to reach a conclusion in your favor. What a waste of time - if you knew the answer you wanted, why bother to ask? If you didn't know the answer you wanted, at least be honest and clear and give all the facts. It REALLY MATTERS what "Roommate" said next.

Why isn't the landlord a jerk for signing us to a lease which violates zoning laws and subsequently asking us to move out for him? Do you understand how much of an inconvenience it is to move 6 people at the drop of a hat? Do you understand there's a significant expense, both time- and $$$-wise, for all of us to move half way through our lease?

YOU KNEW!!! You knew the risks and accepted them, I am hardly sympathetic. If you didn't know the risks when you signed the lease, you certainly knew them well prior to being asked to move (you admit this) and took NO ACTION to reduce your potential exposure. So stop playing the victim.
posted by bunnycup at 7:16 AM on June 4, 2009


With the exception of some goodbyes that was the end of the conversation. Regardless of that, the insinuation is the same. "We may need some extra time" and "You could stay till the end of June" are both vague, uncertain statements. How can any clear understanding of our leave date be ascertained from that? The only definite conclusion from their conversation is that the 6 of us need to find a new residence by the end of June. Nothing was specified if we found a place earlier.

I feel like harlequin's point is pertinent here:
Thirdly, if the landlord's decision has financial repercussions for the landlord, then that is the landlord's responsibility. It should not be up to those affected by the landlords decision to undertake unnecessary additional burden to soften the consequences of his actions for him.

And despite the fact we knew prior to this month that the lease violated zoning regulations we never envisioned moving out. There was no action we could take other than to wait and see. It wasn't until HE ASKED US TO MOVE OUT that we seriously started looking for a new place to live.

Lastly, of course I know what answer I wanted and that answer was based on logic and reasoning. I hoped by creating a discussion here I could verify whether my logic and reasoning behind that answer were correct. Evidently then I appreciate you challenging the argument I've presented despite my belief you're wrong.
posted by phishie at 7:57 AM on June 4, 2009


And despite the fact we knew prior to this month that the lease violated zoning regulations we never envisioned moving out.

Your fault - you SHOULD HAVE. You delayed, ignored the problem, and now have to face the music.

The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They do not terminate your lease. You have an obligation under the lease, and should expect to be held to it, whether you feel that's fair or not.

P.S. - I bet there was an "Okay, thanks, goodbye" by that roommate. I bet there was not simply "Goodbye" and hanging up. I think you are still telling yourself what you want to hear, no matter how much you protest.

(PLEASE let me know whether you get that security deposit back - despite your logic, as a lawyer (not yours) I feel you will be held accountable for June, as do many well-presented comments here.)
posted by bunnycup at 8:53 AM on June 4, 2009


The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They do not terminate your lease.

Strike that, I should have said:

The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They probably do not terminate your lease, as others have said.
posted by bunnycup at 8:55 AM on June 4, 2009


bunnycup, if as you say the zoning actions and fines do not terminate the lease, then why should phishie and his roommates have anticipated moving out? When the roommate called to inform the landlord of the latest zoning board actions, it was the landlord who told them to move out so he and his wife could move in and avoid being fined, it wasn't their idea. I'm not sure I understand.

I would think they owe June's rent because it's June and they're still there and are going to be there at least a week into the month. But that's just from watching a lot of Judge Judy.
posted by Danila at 9:51 AM on June 4, 2009


The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They probably do not terminate your lease, as others have said.

No. The LANDLORD terminated the lease.

So, let me get this straight - the landlord violates the zoning laws by renting to too many people, asks the renters to make it look good for the zoning board, then gives up on the charade and asks them to move...and it's the RENTERS' FAULT?

I'm calling BS on this one....I'm getting a distinct vibe that the loudest accusations against the OP and fellow renters own rental properties themselves.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:19 AM on June 4, 2009


The LANDLORD terminated the lease...the landlord violates the zoning laws by renting to too many people, asks the renters to make it look good for the zoning board, then gives up on the charade and asks them to move...and it's the RENTERS' FAULT?

I say it's the landlord's fault, the renters were complicit by assisting in duping the zoning inspector, and the renters agreed to leave July 1 rather than Oct 1. All that spells out that the renters are on the hook for June rent.

Your posts are infuriating.


You're looking for an answer that I'm not giving you. Sorry. From my seat, it looks like you're trying to snake one out on the landlord. You helped him by tricking the inspector that first time around because it benefited you by letting you stay in the house longer. Now that the shit has hit the fan, you don't want to take responsibility for that. Had you not done that, I'd be much more inclined to agree with others here. I sympathize that moving sucks and it's expensive and it's a pain, but everyone has to do it more times than they'd like and it sucks for all of us.

Oh, and LightFantastic, I don't appreciate the accusation that I lied about my status as a renter. The OP is looking for justification to get out of his responsibility for June rent. Many people are saying he has that justification. I'm not. You can disagree, but don't take that to a personal level please.
posted by incessant at 10:47 AM on June 4, 2009


So, let me get this straight - the landlord violates the zoning laws by renting to too many people, asks the renters to make it look good for the zoning board, then gives up on the charade and asks them to move...and it's the RENTERS' FAULT?

NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! The landlord requested to terminate the lease and the renters agreed. The KEY relevant fact is what termination date was agreed to - OP seems convinced it was "immediate" but the landlord obviously (by wanting notice and so forth) believes the deal was to terminate "at the end of June".

Whether the agreement reached verbally was for an IMMEDIATE termination or a termination AT THE END OF JUNE, is most likely to determine whether rent is owed for June, and therefore whether the landlord has a legitimate right to withhold the security deposit. At any rate, since the landlord thinks it was AT THE END OF JUNE, I would guess that he will hold the deposit, tenants will have to sue for it, and aren't likely to win as to the portion of it that represents June rent.

When I said: The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They probably do not terminate your lease, as others have said,
what I meant was (a) to agree that the landlord is responsible for the fines, etc. arising from the zoning violation, but (b) that the zoning violation likely does not terminate the lease, so the only possible lease termination dates are:

-Immediately, as OP is convinced was the agreement, or
-At the end of June, as LL is convinced was the agreement, or
-At the end of the written lease term, if the oral agreement was for some reason not sufficient to modify the written lease (extraneous point, because neither party wants this resolution)

However, some of my (admittedly rude and overdone) criticism of the OP comes from the "poor me" whining that moving so suddenly is expensive and inconvenient - I have a bit of a "suck it up" view, since they knew (from prior participation in deceit) that this was a likely occurrence and should have, but decided not to, prepared for it.
posted by bunnycup at 10:48 AM on June 4, 2009


I say it's the landlord's fault, the renters were complicit by assisting in duping the zoning inspector, and the renters agreed to leave July 1 rather than Oct 1. All that spells out that the renters are on the hook for June rent.

There is a distinct difference between what you said (in bold) and what we said which was, "we will find a place by July 1. The insinuation being that we may find a place long before then.
posted by phishie at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2009



There is a distinct difference between what you said (in bold) and what we said which was, "we will find a place by July 1. The insinuation being that we may find a place long before then.


OP, you may have INTENDED to make a big distinction there, but the difference is a LOT LESS distinct than you think. I absolutely read "we will find a place by July 1" as an agreement that the lease would survive through the end of June.

Are you all college students by any chance? I truly want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but I'm just not seeing any real-world common sense in your answers and expectations. I think this may be one of the things you have to put in the "learning experiences and reasonable mistakes of youth" pile.

bunnycup, if as you say the zoning actions and fines do not terminate the lease, then why should phishie and his roommates have anticipated moving out?

Because they knew LL had serious potential consequences, and could easily have found out that those included major fines and criminal charges. Common sense tells ME (but maybe not you) that if my LL, as a result of my (illegal) presence in the apartment, might face severe penalties, I should anticipate having to move.
posted by bunnycup at 11:01 AM on June 4, 2009


NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! The landlord requested to terminate the lease and the renters agreed. The KEY relevant fact is what termination date was agreed to - OP seems convinced it was "immediate" but the landlord obviously (by wanting notice and so forth) believes the deal was to terminate "at the end of June".

Whether the agreement reached verbally was for an IMMEDIATE termination or a termination AT THE END OF JUNE, is most likely to determine whether rent is owed for June, and therefore whether the landlord has a legitimate right to withhold the security deposit. At any rate, since the landlord thinks it was AT THE END OF JUNE, I would guess that he will hold the deposit, tenants will have to sue for it, and aren't likely to win as to the portion of it that represents June rent.

When I said: The zoning actions and the fines ARE the landlords responsibility. They probably do not terminate your lease, as others have said,
what I meant was (a) to agree that the landlord is responsible for the fines, etc. arising from the zoning violation, but (b) that the zoning violation likely does not terminate the lease, so the only possible lease termination dates are:

-Immediately, as OP is convinced was the agreement, or
-At the end of June, as LL is convinced was the agreement, or
-At the end of the written lease term, if the oral agreement was for some reason not sufficient to modify the written lease (extraneous point, because neither party wants this resolution)


This is the most accurate summary of the situation. The essential element of the dispute is the misunderstanding of what the accepted move out date was. It was in our opinion that common sense would dictate the land lord preferred we leave ASAP to alleviate the situation with the zoning board & any threat of fines/lawsuits. Clearly the LL didn't take those threats as seriously as we did as he was expecting us to remain for another 4 weeks.

Something I hadn't made clear was that over the past six months the zoning inspector has visited the house at least 6 times, only once actually entering the premises. With each subsequent visit his demeanor and threats have become more serious.

Also, bunnycup, the "poor me" attitude you refer to was strictly a response to the criticism we were the "jerks". I think you will agree that the situation is nearly as inconvenient for us as it is for the landlord.
posted by phishie at 11:03 AM on June 4, 2009


While our age is irrelevant, no we are not in college.
posted by phishie at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2009


Your claim that we should have prepared to move out prior to him asking us to is absurd. You said yourself the contract is still valid. Had we not been gracious enough to acquiesce his request for us to leave we could have just as easily stayed and forced him to eat the fines.
posted by phishie at 11:06 AM on June 4, 2009


Excuse me, assertion rather than claim.
posted by phishie at 11:07 AM on June 4, 2009


Had we not been gracious enough to acquiesce his request for us to leave we could have just as easily stayed and forced him to eat the fines.

Yes, you could have. That would have been miserable. However, with the (as you now admit) SIX visits over six months with increasingly severe demeanor would have made me, personally, pick up the phone to call LL and negotiate my own early termination.

Apologies for criticism, then, on the "poor me". I certainly don't think you're jerks, I think you've been as honest and forthright in dealing with this as you can. Nor, by the way, as strongly as I suggest LL will have a legal entitlement to June rent, do I think that is entirely fair. I think it would be fair to pay a portion of the rent proportional to each day in June you all or any of your belongings remain in the apartment, and leave it at that. But you didn't ask what I thought was FAIR.
posted by bunnycup at 11:13 AM on June 4, 2009


Haha you're right, I didn't.

Paying the proportional rent for the 5-7 days of June we remained residents of the property would not be disagreeable for us.

What would be disagreeable is if he tried to recoup rent for all of June due to some absurd notion or expectation we agreed or were going to stay there for the entire month.
posted by phishie at 11:19 AM on June 4, 2009


I wonder if you should send a letter to the LL now stating that you are "confirming that tenants' understanding was they were requested to vacate immediately, and have prepared to do so. We plan to leave the apartment by [date] and will pay rent through that date. There are no damages to the apartment(*), so we expect to receive our full security deposit of $x no later than 14 days after we leave"

*Assuming that is true. Take LOTS of pictures. I would suggest doing a walkthrough and getting a signature of no damages from LL.

What I am saying is, build your case as if you'd have to sue for the deposit - if you do this professionally and courteously LL might get in a position where you've demonstrated you are serious and it's not worth messing with you.
posted by bunnycup at 11:34 AM on June 4, 2009


Not a bad idea. We're already scheduled to do a walkthrough next week after we've removed our possessions.

The zoning inspector requested that the LL provide a signed form by both parties confirming we are moving out. Once we have that I think we'll be safe.
posted by phishie at 12:03 PM on June 4, 2009


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