What to do with landlord drama?
August 6, 2012 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Getting screwed by landlord on sublet to lease breaking swap. Any advice?

We were in a 2 year lease with a sublet clause. We had to move and break the lease 4 months early. We contacted the landlord who offered us the opportunity to break the lease for 2 months rent. We said no, we'd rather use the sublet clause - a few hundred dollars. They asked us to try to find a subletter that would be interested in extending the lease past the sublet period.

We went through months of showing the house (tons of work) and submitting potential subletters. During this period, the landlord's secretary told us to start submitting potential subletters to a property management company. (I think that it was too much hassle for her.) We agreed but kept CCing the landlord and his secretary on any emails submitting applications for people. Finally they approved someone.

The subletters (one of whom is an attorney) preferred to negotiate starting the lease in July versus doing the sublet for 4 months and then sign a new lease for 2 years. That was cool with everyone involved.

So the new tenants and the landlord started negotiating the lease. They were going back and forth on a number of points for a few weeks. We were CCd on all of this but didn't care, we were just waiting for them to settle things. At an early point I emailed and called the new tenants and asked them if they were still serious about taking the house because if not, I'd want to find someone else. They assured me that they were fine. Throughout the end of the negotiations, we were told by the property manager that they were close to settling and a few days before we were supposed to exchange the keys, property manager told us that they had settled on a lease.

Meanwhile, we all emailed over a couple of weeks between the new tenants, us, the property manager and CCd the landlord and secretary to set a date for exchanging of keys, them to sign the lease, etc. We set a date for the property manager to do a walkthrough with us after which we'd give him the key. Then new tenants come an hour later to pick up key. We did that, the walkthrough went fine. Property manager said everything was fine and we'd get our security deposit ASAP. The new tenants signed the lease with the property manager. We all went about our merry ways.

Fast forward a few days and the landlord's attorney asks us via email to "solve the mystery" of how these new tenants got into the house. (To which I replied, as per the emails on whatever date where we all met with the property manager...)

Then the landlord's attorney tells us that the new tenants don't have a lease. (I asked them what about the lease that they signed with the property manager on whatever date.) The landlord's attorney said that they signed a lease with the property management company, not the landlord so it wasn't binding. (To which I forwarded him the email that said "Please communicate with PROPERTY MANAGEMENT GUY for all things related to this new tenant situation" and asked what was going on.)

I asked the landlord, his attorney, his secretary, and the property manager repeatedly for them to explain what was going on - why the lease with the property manager wasn't binding, what was going on, etc.

And the new tenants refuse to reply to our emails or answer our phone calls. (I'm nervous about communicating with them too.)

Property management guy tells us every few days to not worry about this and they're sorting it out. He is our only source of information. He is nice and usually fairly willing to share what is going on behind the scenes.

Last week I contacted a local real estate attorney who told me not to worry and to just focus on getting our security deposit back.

This has now been a few weeks and today landlord's lawyer sends an email threatening to sue us for July and August's rent (they returned the check from the new tenants for July.)

We contacted real estate attorney again who thinks that this might be a ploy for the landlord to keep our deposit while he negotiates with the new tenants. The attorney also said to not communicate with any of them, don't accept any certified mail and don't sign anything.

...So I would love to hear any advise from the hive mind.

The jurisdiction is Washington, DC.

Throwaway: tiredofthisanon@gmail.com
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
As complicated as this is, and with two attorneys already involved, you should let YOUR attorney handle this.
posted by HuronBob at 3:11 PM on August 6, 2012 [4 favorites]

It sounds to me like your former landlord is having a dispute with his new property management company, and you just got caught in the middle. I bet he got pissed at the property manager, kicked the new tenants out, and is now trying to recover whatever money he can, however he can.

Sorry to say, but the safest and only wise thing to do here is get your own lawyer and have him talk to these people. He'll know what the law is and won't be intimidated by threatening letters. You did everything you were told to do in good faith. What you need now is a lawyer who will send threatening letters w/r/t the security deposit... although you might spend all that money on hiring the lawyer to get it for you :(
posted by sbutler at 4:07 PM on August 6, 2012

Is "local real estate attorney" your attorney or just someone who is giving you advice? You need your own attorney, preferably one who focuses on tenant rights and not just real estate.

I am going to say (and IANAL but someone who has had a lot of experience with this, so all that mileage may vary) that it sounds like you dropped the ball a little here - your reliance on the property management and the new tenants to square things with the landlord is understandable but as your lease was with the landlord (as I understand your question) and the lease that was signed with property management has not been executed by the landlord... technically, you broke your lease when you moved out. This is why you probably will need an attorney to start advocating for you and telling you what is going on -- the property management guy is clearly leaving something out.
posted by sm1tten at 4:38 PM on August 6, 2012

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