Apartment Lease buyout AND rent for all the months?
March 22, 2013 8:46 PM   Subscribe

Can a rental property charge us Lease buyout AND rent for all the months?


I wouldn't have thought I would ever ask this question, but here it is. We moved to Denver, CO a few years ago and have been staying here since then.

Our yearly lease is ending and the new lease agreement has something we feel is not fair. The lease agreement states on the first page that the lease buyout is $1500. Another section in the next page talks about a premium charge and 60 days written notice prior to moving out. Another "Early vacate" clause on page 4 in tiny font states that in case we leave early, we would have to give 60-days notice AND pay lease buyout charges of $1500 (+premium charges) AND also pay rent for all the months left in the lease. We have tried to negotiate in good faith, but the rude manager tells us that the lease agreement cannot be changed for one tenant and the only choice we have is either to "sign it or move"

The problem is that due to a possible career change, we might have to vacate early. the other problem is that even for a month-to-month lease, they are asking us for 60-days notice or rent in lieu of the remaining days. (The month-to-month also has a $200 additional fee on top of the market rent).

Are there any options for us? YANMYL, no legal advice is assumed, but any helpful advice on renter rights or other recommendations welcome.

Note: Apart from this one issue, we don't have any other complaints - good neighborhood, great school for the kids etc
posted by theobserver to Law & Government (7 answers total)
IANYL, IANA Colorado L. They can charge you for anything you agree to pay, up to the limits of state law. I think you're right: it doesn't make sense to charge you a buyout and the rest of the rent -- in that case, why not just move out and pay rent on the vacant place for the rest of the lease?

Perhaps a Colorado lawyer will come along, but I suspect that few competent lawyers will offer legal advice for free on the Internet.

If you like the place, it's probably worth seeing an actual lawyer and paying her actual money for actual good advice.
posted by spacewrench at 9:00 PM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Well, a handbook from Boulder notes:
Be alert to clauses in written leases which require the tenant to give up certain rights such as a clause which allows the landlord to evict a tenant for nonpayment of rent without a three-day notice. A three-day notice is required by Colorado law and cannot be waived by a tenant. Other questionable clauses may only be determined unenforceable by a court. If any party has a question concerning the enforceability of a term of a lease legal advice should be sought from an attorney.

On the face of it, you don't clarify whether these clauses are really in conflict with one another, but in extreme cases a contract can be voided by such errors (TINLA). You would need an attorney to review the language and it's still possible (as noted above) you would have to go to court to get a judge to declare the lease void in whole or in part. This Denver pamphlet from the Jeffco Action Center states that among your rights in Colorado are the

Right to “break” or terminate a lease for any good reason, provided tenant is prepared (a) to pay rent to the end of the lease term or until the property is re-rented, whichever happens first; and (b) to pay any reasonable “re-letting’ charges stated in the lease. Tenant does not thereby forfeit his/her rights to that part of the Security Deposit to which he/she may be entitled.

As a basic rule, in the US you are liable for remaining months on a lease as long as the landlord makes "reasonable" (in practice minimal) attempts to re-rent the unit. In principle, a buyout is a way to avoid these conflicts and just agree to pay X and quit.

Anyway, without the actual text and just going by your "says something abouts", I have to consider whether these refer to different circumstances. It may be that the "leaving early" is a clause that only activates outside of a buyout, e.g. where you just move out and they come after you. Without the contract I can't tell. Still, given the fact you've already run up against a conflict over interpretation, I have to really underscore that you probably need an attorney to sort this out, and it would be worth it especially if the combined costs you could save run into the thousands. The possibility exists that simply notifying the landlord that you have legal representation and expect performance of the contract wording as you interpret it will be sufficient to get them to back down. As it is, right now they feel they can just try to maximize their fleecing of you.

As to the month-to-month notice, the statutory minimum appears to be 10 days (many states make it 30). It's somewhat contrary to the spirit of a month-to-month agreement to require an extra 60 days' notice (essentially making it a quarterly lease), and I'd be very skeptical of that as well, but I can't say whether it would be an illegal clause.

Bottom line, though, is that it appears you have some screwy, lawyerly landlords who will happily make your moving out unpleasant all around. TINLA, but this is advice that you may want to move if you think you'll have problems with the contract. There are probably plenty of landlords who would be happy to accommodate your potential move-out issues with advance notice, and this sure ain't one of 'em.
posted by dhartung at 2:19 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have two concerns. First is that you have a buyout amount of $1500 and liability for the remaining months. In my state, that would likely be considered an unenforceable penalty. You can have one but not both. Of course, I haven't read the lease so I don't know if these are alternative provisions or not.

The second concern is that it is a month-to-month lease that has a 60 day notice provision. That is not a month-to-month lease. I agree with dhartung on that score. If your landlord/tenant act is like my state's, it sets forth the notice period for a month-to-month and cannot be altered by a lease.

I would find another landlord.
posted by Tanizaki at 5:46 AM on March 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

You're paying 200 more per month, plus two months notice, plus a lease buyout fee, plus you have to pay rent for a whole year even if you leave? Why not take a normal yearly lease and, if or when you need to leave, deal with it then?
posted by jeather at 8:19 AM on March 23, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses. To clarify, there are 3 sections where the lease mentions leaving early - each of them has different wording which is what the confusion is all about.

In principle, if they had spelled out clearly the consequences of breaking the lease, I would be ok with it. But the very fact that they are on different pages and the front desk guy says that its just a way of doing business and he is being "realistic" has my blood boiling.

The first page has a section outlining the different costs, with one of them being Lease Buy-out amount of $1500.

The second page has a Lease Buyout section which says (exact wording) - "In the event Resident desires to terminate the lease prior to the end of the initial term or any extension thereon, Resident may do so by giving sixty days written notice, paying all amounts due or which would fall due prior to move out (including paying back to the Owner any and all Move-in discounts or lease concessions), and paying the Lease Buy-out amount above. Such amounts to be paid at the time of giving the notice. Resident shall still be responsible for damages and cleaning of the Premises. If no amount is stated or the amount is $0, it shall be deemed to be the full amount due through to the end of the initial agreement. The lease may only terminate on the last day of a month unless agree by Owner or due to default.

The "Early Vacate" clause on the 4th page, is "If Resident does not fulfill the entire term above (even if such failure is due to eviction by the owner), Resident shall be liable to Owner for the costs incurred by Owner as a result of the early termination. These costs are in addition to the other damages and rent (including future rent) that may be assessed pursuant to this agreement. If Resident vacates prior to the end of the initial term, all future rents under this Agreement shall accelerate and become immediately due." Rest of this clause talks about eviction.

My question is if the Early vacate clause applies only when 60-days notice is NOT given or even when its given? As per the guy, even if you give 60-days notice, you would have to pay all future rents, unless they are waived by the manager on goodwill (apparently happens almost always).
posted by theobserver at 10:19 AM on March 23, 2013

i think the intention of the document is to give you the choice of paying the remaining months of rent or giving 60 days notice and paying a $1500 fee. it looks like you're already living there so you have a good idea if this is a good landlord or not. if you like the place i'd go ahead and sign and count on paying the 1500 if you move.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 10:51 AM on March 23, 2013

Look in the phone book; there should be a local section with consumer advice, and info on Tenant's Rights. And/or call 311 and find out who can assist you. HUD link I'd ask Legal Services/ Tenant's Rights folks about your odds of enforcing the most favorable clause, since there are 3. You are a current tenant, so they have no extra costs if you move early.
posted by theora55 at 10:53 AM on March 23, 2013

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