Dude, I just wanted an apartment!
April 14, 2010 7:20 PM   Subscribe

ChicagoHousingFilter: My landlord needs to sell my unit, and wants to terminate the lease upon sale. I have a year left on the lease and don't know what to do about her request.

My landlord is a nice person, with whom I am on good terms, but she is in the middle of a divorce, and the judge has ordered her to sell the unit so they can split the assets. My South Loop high-rise condo 1br where I've been for the past two years has thus been on the market since January. Although I don't like dealing with the realtors (who have been very pushy and rude), I have made the unit available for every showing they have requested, and have even succumbed to some of their put-stuff-in-storage demands just to get them to shut up.

I work full time and go to school half-time, and am expecting to graduate next spring. I am hoping to go on to grad school in the fall, in a foreign country. In order to do that, I need to keep my grades up, not get behind schedule, like, at all, and make my application deadlines, plus save cash. I was not planning to move, was expecting to spend all my free time on school, so last spring when I re-signed my lease, we signed for two years, which will take me nearly all the way through until graduation (at which point I was hoping to either re-sign a short-term lease or go month-to-month, assuming I'll be leaving the country in August-ish). I live within walking distance of work and school, which saves me buckets of commuting time, and is thus really valuable to me.

Yesterday, my landlady emailed me to ask if I would be willing to let her "buy out the lease" so that she can terminate the lease upon execution of a sales contract. She didn't spell out what "buying" out the lease would entail (I am assuming it means "let you out of it without a penalty," as opposed to her paying me some sort of pro-rated amount based on the number of months left on the lease), but offered a lump sum equal to slightly more than one month's rent. Based on past experience, I think that that lump sum amount will not cover movers + packing materials even if I self-pack.

I like my apartment and am happy here, and can't really afford to take the time to move. If I have to move myself, I think the only way I can do it while keeping any of my sanity intact is if I take a quarter off from school, which means I won't graduate on time, will likely miss my grad school application deadlines, and since the program only starts in the fall, means I could be set back by a whole year.

However, I am really unhappy with being caught in the middle of the divorce (her ex-to-be has caused other inconveniences, such as subpoenaing me to be deposed for being accused of paying cash under the table for a parking spot which is clearly spelled out on my lease, which I emphatically was not doing), and I dislike the realtors' interference and high-handedness. I also worry about the security of my belongings, with strangers parading through here, and worry that they will not pay attention to my cat while opening the door to my 30th floor balcony.

So I am tentatively willing to make a compromise counter-offer, because I hate the idea of moving but I kind of want to run screaming from all the drama. I know I'm not willing to be given n days notice at some random point in the future, because I can't be trying to write 30 pages of research papers and just be told "ok, it sold, now get out," but I am willing to pick a date to terminate the lease, so I can plan, find a new place, etc. But the lump sum she has offered is too low to move on, and certainly doesn't compensate me for the lost vacation time from work or a quarter lost of school (potentially a year!). if I do that, so I think that I would have to ask for more. I think it is fair to ask her to pay for movers to pack and move me in addition to a "zomg, this is totally screwing up my life here and I did not sign on for this" penalty. My question is this: Is hers a reasonable request? What is reasonable for me to push back on? And how exactly do you find a dollar value for "zomg, you are screwing up my life"?
posted by sldownard to Home & Garden (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I am not understanding why you would have to take a quarter, or a year, off in order to move. I think it is fair to say you need her to compensate you enough to pay for the mover since you were not expecting to move, hence the lease you signed. And perhaps to pay for someone to come in and help you pack. But unless you are packing up and moving a multi-room mansion, I don't see why you need to take a quarter off school and screw up your year. I loved a one-bedroom apartment last year and took two full nights from after work to about 10 pm or so to pack, then one full day to move---by the end of that day, I had nearly everything unpacked and was able to unpack the rest and pick up odds and ends over the next several weeks. It sounds like it is just you and the cat, how much stuff can you really have? Yes, it will be *inconvenient* but really, killing your entire YEAR? You can't just book off a weekend for this and be done?
posted by JoannaC at 7:28 PM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Her problem isn't your problem. Figure out how much it would cost you to move without hassle (hire movers, pay a down payment on a new place, possibly covering the costs of the new place if the rent is higher) and tell her how that's how much money it will take to get you to move.

Alternatively, you could ask if you could just pay her husband half the rent until the lease is up.

I am not understanding why you would have to take a quarter, or a year, off in order to move.

Are you kidding? Moving can be pretty stressful and take up a lot of your time. If you're a grad student struggling to make ends meet and working on projects 24/7 having a wrench thrown into your life can seriously throw you off track.
posted by delmoi at 7:34 PM on April 14, 2010 [4 favorites]

oh...i've been in this nightmare before, but without the benefit of an actual lease...which really sucked. you can refuse to have realtors on the property, until such time as you vacate. you have paid rent on this place, and that confers legal ownership to you. Get Legal Advice Immediately! AFAIK, the lease you signed is binding on both parties, and guarantees your tenancy for that entire period, no matter what's going on with anybody's divorce. (I believe your landlord is required to keep your rent in a separate account, and then, when your lease is up and the place is sold, divided (along with the revenue of the sale) between her and her ex). But (at least here in CA), you dont have to let them show/sell the place while you're still in it. Sounds to me like she's playing pretty fast and loose with your rights. find out what they are. there should be a free 'tenant's rights' legal hotline in your area. call it.
posted by sexyrobot at 7:41 PM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: Seconding JoannaC. I understand how painful moving will be, and it does sound like you are extremely busy, but there are ways you can make it easier. You could:

- Hire someone to help you pack, in addition to a mover (actually, many of the better moving companies offer this service, though it's costly).
- Hire a really good, well-recommended moving company.
- Hire a broker to help you find temporary housing, ideally furnished, so you can:
- Put things you don't need regularly in storage now, thus making it easier to move abroad (or just sell it now, if that was your plan).

Call around, get some quotes, and figure out how much all this will cost (including deposit and possibly higher rent for the temporary apartment), add it all up plus 33% for wiggle room, and go to your landlord with this sum as a counter-offer. It may be too much for her to pay, but that's up to her to decide. It might also just be worth it to her to have one less thing to worry about.
posted by lunasol at 7:42 PM on April 14, 2010

Sounds to me like she's playing pretty fast and loose with your rights.

Yes, this, which puts you in a pretty strong negotiating position. Especially if there's nothing in the lease about early termination. Call a Chicago tenant's right's organization, or the Illinois Secretary of State, and find out what your rights are. If she doesn't have a simple way to force you out of your lease, then you will probably be able to get a good deal.
posted by lunasol at 7:46 PM on April 14, 2010

I don't know much about this, but I think if you have a lease you have a right to be there that outweighs or at least counterbalances her right to sell the place. When we were thinking about renting out a house we owned, that was one of the things we understood - that the lease gave renters the right to stay there for the duration of the lease (assuming they were paying and following the terms of the lease).

I don't know how this jives with the court order to sell the condo. It might help you to contact some sort of tenant's rights organization. Here's one. Here's another. I don't know how good these organizations are - just a quick google search.

You may choose not to pursue staying over her objections - that probably won't ratchet down the drama. But it is worth knowing whether what is happening is kosher and what your rights in this situation are.
posted by jeoc at 7:49 PM on April 14, 2010

On non-preview, what everybody else said.
posted by jeoc at 7:50 PM on April 14, 2010

Are you kidding? Moving can be pretty stressful and take up a lot of your time. If you're a grad student struggling to make ends meet and working on projects 24/7 having a wrench thrown into your life can seriously throw you off track.

I'm sorry, but there's physically only so much stuff you can fit in a one bedroom apartment. It's certainly a miserably unpleasant process to move it, like any move, but it's really just not that time-consuming. I've managed to do it before while I was working 60 hour weeks, and was out of town on business every Monday-Thursday, by taking a couple of Fridays off, blocking out the whole weekend for the move, and getting a couple of friends to help me move. Did it suck? A lot. But then it was over and life went on, much as yours will, OP.

By all means, make an aggressive counter-offer that will compensate you for all the costs of moving and hopefully let you hire somebody to deal with the worst bits of moving, but I would not raise the point that you will have to take a quarter off of school to move, or set your education back by a year, when you negotiate for it, because they're simply not credible points to raise, and you have plenty of leverage in negotiating this anyway. Even more to the point, don't set that expectation for yourself; soak your landlord for as much of the cost of moving as you can, lance the boil of miserableness as quickly as possible, and get on with things.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 8:01 PM on April 14, 2010 [5 favorites]

sexyrobot writes "But (at least here in CA), you dont have to let them show/sell the place while you're still in it. "

This is not true in California (and I'd be surprised if it was true anywhere, no one is going to buy a place they can't inspect). See this PDF from the California Department of Consumer affairs starting at page 33.
posted by Mitheral at 8:21 PM on April 14, 2010

Figure out what moving will cost, and add a few grand on there for the hassle. If she expects you to go to this much trouble to help her out, the least she can do is throw you some cash for your trouble.
posted by Slinga at 8:22 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm not a lawyer, so definitely get the advice of the local tenants rights groups listed above. I've been in situations similar to your three times in Chicago, when the building where I lived kept getting sold to condo developers. I talked to the Illinois Tenant Union, I believe. (It was a while ago, and they had a different address, maybe a different name.) It was really helpful.

The new owner has to take on your lease. If you don't want to move, then don't move. You don't need to explain your preferences, your schedule, or how much it would inconvenience you to anybody. You signed a lease, and that gives you certain rights. The people buying and selling the building might not like that, but thems the breaks.

If you stay, you can expect very uncooperative landlords, so you won't see much in the way of repairs or upkeep. The tenant org might be able to help you with that, and tell you if and when you have to let people in your unit.
posted by hydrophonic at 8:27 PM on April 14, 2010

sldownard: As others have said, her problems are not your problems. The only counteroffer I would make is that she has to find you a new apartment which is acceptable to you, pay to have your stuff moved, and pay for the first months rent to compensate you for the inconvenience. Possibly compromise on the last point.

But if you're busy and don't have time to move, well, that's too bad for her. Tell her to find you a place.
posted by Justinian at 8:33 PM on April 14, 2010

You have a lease, as in L-E-A-S-E: This means you have the right stay until the term is finished, and your landlord cannot kick you out whenever she feels like it, no matter what problems she is facing. By all means be sympathetic, but you do not have to make her problems yours, the lease defines the terms of this relationship. If she wants to break the lease she has to offer you a pretty good deal, and the value of one month's rent is pretty crappy, I would hold out for way more than that. Not just merely the cost of moving, but that plus a load of inconvenience.

However, there is one important caveat: the fine print on the lease. You will need to make sure that under 10 paragraphs of legalese there isn't half a sentence along the lines of: "...oh and by the way I can kick you out if a judge orders, or whenever I feel like it" or "animals not allowed". If this the case, be prepared to negotiate.
posted by ovvl at 8:42 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh and if the realtors are rude, you have the right to tell them to fuck off, because you personally don't owe them anything. Your lease probably would have a clause saying that you have to make your unit available for viewing, but usually at your convenience with reasonable notice... of course, if you are not legally obligated to vacate the unit within a year, well...
posted by ovvl at 9:00 PM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: If she sells this place before your lease is up, you are probably in trouble (I don't know the exact rules about how a landlord can terminate a lease in Chicago, but I assume they can refuse to renew for just about any reason), because then you will need to move in the middle of your last year (unless your lease ends after you finish school). You want to choose the date you can leave. The lost quarter is absurd: at the worst you would take 2 or 3 days off work and pack up and move quickly. So get an estimate for how much movers cost and your loss from not working for 2 days, add a bit more perhaps for the inconvenience, and then ask for that. "I will need x for the movers, it will take 2 days to pack so I need y for that time, and I need z for the time it takes me to apartment hunt."

If, however, your lease is up only after the school year is over, then I'd just refuse her offer. You're very sorry, you're willing to do what you can do to help her out in other ways, but you signed the lease and are unable to end it early. You can pack up your stuff for the summer and sublet some place for a few months.
posted by jeather at 9:01 PM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

In QLD, Australia, leases are invalidated if a property is sold... Because you signed an agreement with the property owner, not with the property itself.

BUT, I believe the lease stands until the new owner sells the property, at which point the new owner needs to sort things out if they want to evict you.

As for your request to have the house you leased on condition of having it for two years, for two years... Yes. Totally! It's not your fault that she's getting divorced, but they made a contract with you, and have been reaping the benefits. You are not taking advantage of them. You may be making their finances slightly more difficult, but they have lawyers and you have a responsibility to yourself.
posted by Quadlex at 9:44 PM on April 14, 2010

As others have said, you need to talk to a local tenant's rights organization. But you have a lease, and that is huge. The lump sum your landlord is offering is such a ridiculously lowball amount that it shouldn't be entertained even for a moment.

She is asking you to make her problem your problem. Think about how much that is worth to you- unless there is something squirrelly in your lease you are in an excellent negotiating position. You need to think *a lot* bigger. It sounds like you have about one year left on your lease, right? A serious offer from a landlord serious about getting a tenant out of a lease would be more like six or eight months' rent. One month's rent is not a serious offer, she is trying to have her cake and eat it too. I understand that she is in a difficult position, but don't allow your sympathy for her to result in you getting screwed over.
posted by ambrosia at 9:45 PM on April 14, 2010

Your landlady sounds like she's just trying to find an easy way out, soft-selling you in the process. No biggie. However, it will be easier for her to sell if there are no tenants, hence her meager buyout offer. Frankly, I'd use the realtors against her, telling her that you're sympathetic and are interested in possibly making a deal (keep your hedges up), but that if the realtors keep being jerks you're going to hole up there every time they have a showing, eating Cheetos, smoking cigarettes and watching Oprah whenever they're there. She should be paying for the storage you're using while they show the house, btw. If leases transfer over ownership changes, she should be much more generous than the whole situation seems like it's been so far.
posted by rhizome at 10:42 PM on April 14, 2010

You absolutely need to talk to a lawyer or a tenants rights group. Some of the answers people have provided are certainly incorrect as to your rights. If you're a student, there may be free legal services available to you through your school. Student legal services groups probably handle way more tenant-landlord disputes than anything else, so they're pretty experienced with the different situations that can arise for tenants.
posted by ishotjr at 1:14 PM on April 15, 2010

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