Lease/Sublet/Screwed Myself and trying to move
June 11, 2005 1:19 PM   Subscribe

6 weeks ago we gave 60 days notice we were moving out by July 1, and just got a letter yesterday from the property mgmt that the notice is not valid. We're now responsible for rent here until April 2006. I'm supposed to move across the country next week......

For reference, this is in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

We recieved and signed a notice of rent increase Feb 2, 2005. We assumed this meant the rent would go up which was fine, but that we were on month to month terms since our original 1 year lease ended April 30, 2004. We found out yesterday that by signing this, we agreed to another 1 year lease term May 1/05 - Apr 30/06. We missed the month-month clause in the form.

We gave our 60 days notice we were moving out May 1. They called a few days later and left a msg saying if we needed help relocating to an area the property mgmt company served to give them a call. The apartment has also been shown at least twice. We got a letter yesterday stating that the notice we gave is not valid since we are in a year lease, and not on month to month terms. We can pay them a $150 fee and they will try to rent the place but we are responsible for rent until they do so. Subletting is an option as well, but from what I can tell, the market here is not great.

We're supposed to be moving across the country the week of June 20th. We do not want to stay in this city, especially until April 2006, and have both already quit our jobs.

ANY suggestions of what we can do?
posted by sinical to Home & Garden (21 answers total)
 
Some suggestions, in no particular order:

1. If you can afford it, contact an attorney who specializes in the tenant side of landlord/tenant law.

2. If you can't afford an attorney, contact a local tenants' rights group and/or pro bono legal clinic like this one.

3. Find another tenant who is willing to take over your lease. If you are willing and able to sacrifice your deposit, you are more likely to be able to find someone willing to take over your lease, even in a soft housing market.
posted by dersins at 1:41 PM on June 11, 2005


Did you read the rent increase form before you signed it? Did it say anything about being a binding lease? Do you still have a copy? First of all ask them to send you a copy of this 'binding lease' and read it over.

Personally I'd just move and not worry about it. But I'm pretty irresponsible.
posted by delmoi at 1:56 PM on June 11, 2005


Ontario landlord/tenant law says that you cannot terminate your tenancy earlier than the end of the fixed term. If you signed off on a fixed term, you're obligated to rent until the end of that term, even if you don't live there.

Hiring an attorney will not do so much for you, however, I suggest you do your best to find any minor breach of the contract or law by your landlord -- such as if the landlord is not maintaining or repairing the rental property, illegally enters the rental unit, alters the locks, interferes with vital services, interferes with the your reasonable enjoyment of the rental unit, harasses you, and so on.

Check the Ontario Housing Tribunal for more details, and best of luck.
posted by Jairus at 2:13 PM on June 11, 2005


At least in the states that is considered breaching a contract and you could be liable for the remaining rent (assuming your rent increase actually formed a contract to extend the lease one year). However, there would also be an obligation on the part of the lessor to mitigate the damages, that is to find a new tenant and deduct that tenant's payments from what you owe. I have no idea how Canadian law works, although it is generally quite similar on basic contractual issues, but you should get some professional help either from an attorney or at least a tenant rights organization or that Housing Tribunal.
posted by caddis at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2005


Given how long it takes the Ontario Housing Tribunal to get around to cases, and given how expensive lawyers can be, your best bet is to pay them their fee to have them get another renter in there.

It's in their best interests to get another long term tenant in there, plus they've already got your $150 fee for early termination; you're probably not going to have to worry about forking over more for rent.

It sucks to have to pay the fee, and to have to worry about the added bills, but it's the shortest, least painful option - especially given that the law will be on their side, not yours, if you missed the clause in the agreement you signe.d
posted by Fozzie at 2:53 PM on June 11, 2005


Does the company own properties in the area you're relocating to? If so, you may be able to transfer to one of those.

If not...
Be very polite, but very, very firm, and take it to the top. In my landlord-battling experience, it seems to work best if you seem like a nice person who is also not-to-be-trifled-with. Sometimes even a letter from a lawyer will do the trick. Make it worth their while just to let it go.
posted by lalalana at 5:03 PM on June 11, 2005


You definitely need to review that document you signed, preferably with professional assistance as noted above. The way you state it, they presented it to you as a "notice of rent increase" but worded it in such a way that it is a binding lease. Just because they are claiming this now does not make it so -- particularly since their actions at least for a time agreed with your view of things. In fact, if they accepted your rent money beginning in March at the increased rate, where I live that means they accepted the ongoing month-to-month tenancy. Only if you actually signed a document extending or reinstating your lease do they have a case. Make absolutely sure of this. On the other hand, you'll also need to make sure that by paying rent beginning last year, you weren't automatically renewing your existing lease. Here, automatic renewals of non-commercial leased property are illegal. So there is more than one avenue to pursue.

In any case it's rare for a company not to work with you when you're legitimately leaving town. You can advertise your place yourself and find another tenant -- do all the things they won't, including phone-number tag posters in student areas and local bulletin boards. The market may be soft but that doesn't mean it's impossible to find a tenant -- just harder. If you're really on the hook for the lease, after investigation, you can offer a sublet at reduced rent that will at least offset what you owe. Balance this against the small likelihood that they will be completely unable to rent the place between now and next year. (If they can hook you with the costs, they have no incentive to work to rent it, of course.)

You could still skip out on it, but nowadays such things do -- unfortunately -- end up in credit reports and could affect your ability to rent in your new community.
posted by dhartung at 6:10 PM on June 11, 2005


Were I you, I'd skip town. They've shown the apartment, which means they accepted your terms. The landlord/property manager is being an ass. Let him know in no uncertain terms that you are leaving, and leave.

I doubt they'll bother to file a credit report, and I doubt any landlord in your new province is going to deny you if you've got a respectable job and a checkbook.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:20 PM on June 11, 2005


And here's a thought: the $150 "fee" is a bogus and likely illegal tactic to keep people, upset by the price hike, from leaving.

If it were legal, you'd see landlords jack the price to astronomical rates, making $10000/month/unit for the one year it would take for everyone to get out of the contract or declare bankruptcy.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:24 PM on June 11, 2005


Certainly, do not pay the $150 without checking with a lawyer or such, and probably not unless they agree to seek a tenant and then let you off the hook for the remaining rent regardless of whether they actually get one or not.
posted by caddis at 6:28 PM on June 11, 2005


Definitely check with any local landord/tenant services. Even if you were bound by a lease, it's hard to believe that their actions wouldn't be considered bad faith. Sheehs, they waited 6 weeks to notify you. Meanwhile they marketed the apartment and showed it to prospective tenants (if they're claiming now that your notice was not accepted, then how is this not a violation of privacy?). Perhaps you did sign a new lease, and perhaps the tactice they used to obtain it was even legal (ugh, I hope not--how underhanded); but surely they should still have some responsibility for having failed to give a timely response to your notice and for giving you ample basis to expect the notice had in fact been accepted.

I doubt they'll bother to file a credit report

I wouldn't count on this. Skipping would leave a substantial debt running up. If the property management company thinks there's a way to collect, count on them to put on the pressure. First by putting it on your credit report (easy), then siccing a collection agency on you (costs them little or nothing until you pay). If this were in the U.S. they'd also be filing for a court judgement, after which they'd be able to garnish your wages (is there a similar process in Canada?). Right now is your best opportunity to negotiate a fair solution. If you skip, you lose leverage and risk having a bad situation drag out much longer.

I doubt any landlord in your new province is going to deny you if you've got a respectable job and a checkbook

I wouldn't count on this either. Some landlords do get nervous when they find out the last landlord is still trying to collect on an old bill. You want to take the risk of losing a good apartment in the future or having to make higher deposits for it? Yuck.

Besides, we're talking about a report of an unpaid debt. That affects your creditworthiness as a whole, not just ability to rent. When you want a car loan, mortgage, etc., that can come back to haunt you. (Which is why debtors report. It's an easy way to keep the pressure on.)
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:02 PM on June 11, 2005


sinical, I also live in Hamilton. Not sure if this is useful, but the City of Hamilton website section on housing lists a number of legal clinics that you might want to make use of, especially if you have a copy of the agreement you can bring with you.
http://www.hamilton.ca/housing/landlord-tenant/default.asp

If you do decide that you would like to speak with a lawyer, I can recommend a real estate lawyer that did my condo closing. Very competent, with reasonable fees. If you're interested, feel free to contact me using the email in my profile.
posted by Cyrie at 7:20 PM on June 11, 2005


Eh, skip town.
posted by angry modem at 11:17 PM on June 11, 2005


Som good advice and some not-so-good advice here. Let me see if I can summarize it. And, just to be clear, IANAL, and I don't live in Canada. So take this all with a grain of salt.

1) Re-read all of the documents that you have received from the real estate company. If you didn't keep copies of the documents, ask them to send copies to you. Ideally, review them with someone with expertise from a tenants rights organization or a law firm that specializes in such matters if you can get them to do it for free or a nominal fee. Without knowing specifically knowing what you have signed, its very difficult to know what course of action to take.

2) Assuming that your review of the documents doesn't indicate that you are truly and unalterably trapped in this lease, I agree with lanalana that you should be polite but very firm in your future dealings with the landlord. You want to give the impression that you are competent and aren't going to be pushed around. The $150 fee sounds like a bullshit attempt to cheat you out of money to me, but then again I am not an expert in these matters.

3) Document everything. Write a letter (keep a copy!) and send it registered mail (or whatever the Canadian equivalent is that gives you proof of receipt) that states all of the facts of the case: your understanding that you are on a month-to-month lease, the exact date upon which you gave notice, and a firm statement that you will be leaving the city on your intended move-out date and will not be staying. Demand that they respond within a week.

4) If they insist on trying to stick you with the fee and/or rent through 2006, then you may need to escalate. Often the threat of legal action is enough, so before actually contacting a lawyer I would send a letter restating your intentions and your belief that you are within your rights to do this, and indicating that you are willing to pursue legal action if necessary.

5) Finally, as others have advised, you can circumvent all this nastiness if you can find someone to take over your apartment. Ask around, advertise, and so whatever you can to find a replacement.

Best of luck.
posted by googly at 7:18 AM on June 12, 2005


To make a few points:

1) We have contacted two different lawyers. Both have said that while their method with the rent increase form was unpleasant, we signed it and it is binding as a lease.

2) I can't just leave and hope they don't get mad. There's no way I'd mess with my credit rating like that.

3) According to lawyers, our only real grounds to stand on is that they have waited a fairly unreasonable 6 weeks to tell us this and they have shown the apt twice. Basically, they have led us to believe there was no problem, until we got this notice. That said, bringing in lawyers and getting all messy like that is something I really don't want to do, let alone have the time or money to do.
posted by sinical at 7:39 AM on June 12, 2005


I quite agree, the fact they showed the apartment indicates an acceptance of your moving. To then inform you your notice was invalid (after waiting 6 weeks!) is totally screwy. What a pity you don't already have a job at your intended destination, so you could argue damages!

In my experience, it usually pays to refuse to sign things. Just ask yourself what difference it would make? I was in a situation where my building was being bought by a developer for demolition. We were all asked to sign a paper "in order to get our [legally required] benefits" (Los Angeles law). I was the only one who refused to sign, since I was entitled to the benefit regardless of their silly form. I ended up with more than double the benefits because the developer NEEDED that form for his own loans. (it was awesome, about 4 months rent in value)

In your case, so they're raising the rent. If you didn't sign, what could they do? Keep your rent low? Raise it anyway? Either way, I see no benefit to YOU for signing. In which case, you may have smelled the proverbial rat.
posted by Goofyy at 8:35 AM on June 12, 2005


The credit report, if it happened -- and I doubt it will, because they'll simply rent the place out -- is going to take a while to hit the system. By that time, you'll likely already be in a new rental.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:32 AM on June 12, 2005


Go to the Tribunal (ORHT). From what I have heard (second and thirdhand) cases do not take so long to handle at all and tend to favor the tenant. It's not like things will be worse if they say your landlord is right, and you have a good chance they'll at least mitigate your problems in this situation. Your landlord is dealing shady with you, whether the way they got you to sign a lease is legal or not - they acted as if they accepted your notice, they didn't refuse your notice in a timely fashion, they didn't inform you of this fee for 6 weeks, they showed your apartment (isn't that invasion of privacy if they refused your notice?).

If you pay them the fee and agree that you're responsible for the rent for one more year unless they find another tenant, you're absolutely stuck and they're sitting pretty. My guess is that they're betting "bringing in lawyers and getting all messy like that is something [you] really don't want to do, let alone have the time or money to do" since you're moving far away. Soft housing market? Now they've got their asses covered by intimidating you into paying them for the place, or doing their footwork for them by finding another tenant to take over the lease/sublet it to.

The threat of bringing in a lawyer could be enough if you refuse to be intimidated. Lawyers aren't as expensive as being stuck paying another year on an apartment you're not occupying. Pursue it.
posted by Melinika at 11:20 AM on June 12, 2005


bringing in lawyers and getting all messy like that is something I really don't want to do, let alone have the time or money to do.

Well, it's either get a lawyer or pay the rent until next April, isn't it? I mean, what's their incentive to rent the place if you're on the hook? That said, keep in mind that often the *mere threat* of bringing in a lawyer is enough to slap sense into a jerk.

To repeat: The *mere threat* of bringing in a lawyer is often enough to slap sense into a jerk.

Sit down tonight and write them a registered letter saying you've spoken with a lawyer and have an appointment with ORHT, and mention that while you'd prefer not to go that route, the lawyer says there's definitely a case here, on the grounds that they acted in bad faith by waiting so long and showing the place, thus leading you to believe there wasn't a problem. Call them tomorrow and tell them the registered letter is on the way, and again emphasize that you'd prefer not to go down that path. If that doesn't work, you might want to try offering a compromise of paying rent for two months, or as long as it takes to find another tenant - whichever is shorter.

And for god's sake, next time read carefully before signing a rental agreement.
posted by mediareport at 4:13 PM on June 12, 2005


Before we all assume the landlord's being a jerk, have you actually talked to your landlord yet? When I left my last lease early, the (very nice) building manager gave me one of these letters as well. When I asked about the whole "your notice is invalid" stuff, she basically told me to ignore it. It was boilerplate CYA stuff, there to ensure that I'd be on the hook for the money I owed on the remainder of the lease on the off chance that they couldn't re-lease the apartment before I left. As I was in the West End of Vancouver at the time, my apartment was rented out again a week after I gave notice, thus there was no lost income for the landlord, thus "who cares?"

The only problem here is the six weeks notice and the oddity of the backdoor lease. But even the backdoor lease isn't all that weird; I'd expect the conditions of your month-to-month arrangement has to stick to the original lease's stipulations, meaning they couldn't increase your rent without getting you to sign another lease. In any case, it sounds like your landlord's been pretty nice about everything else (what with the showings and all), so I don't know if I'd threaten them with the tribunal just yet.
posted by chrominance at 9:44 AM on June 13, 2005


Well this situation has been resolved.

My roomate talked with the actual landlord (ie not our supers, but the property mgmt guy) today. She recounted the story and cried a bit. He kept suggesting paying the $150 and having them rent it, but she resisted that. He then said he'd let us out if we payed 2 months rent. She said we couldn't afford to do that, and after calling her back, he agreed to let us out paying 1 months rent.

I'm not thrilled about paying it, but will do so gladly to have the ordeal over.

As chrominance alluded to, the guy was apparently quite nice and reasonable. He couldn't really explain why there was such a time gap, but was genuinely interested in trying to help us out and was asking about our plans with moving.

Many thanks to all that offered advice!!
posted by sinical at 5:29 PM on June 13, 2005


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