How do I negotiate my lease terms?
July 14, 2014 7:23 AM   Subscribe

I've found a sufficient space to rent so I don't end up with a two hour commute each day. However, the terms of the lease are kinda iffy when it comes to vacating the lease early... Help me out?

The Lease in Question

Hello Mefites! I need some help reviewing this lease and making a decision. Here’s the scoop! I live about an hour away from where I work. I have been working at this place for a year. I do not want to drive back and forth over the winter again nor do I want to continue to subject my vehicle to the additional miles every day. I have been looking for an apartment in the city where I work (pretty rural, 19,000 population) with little success. I am trying to keep my expenses low so I can continue to save money. I have found an apartment that will suit my needs and has sufficiently low rent/utilities. However, after looking at the lease I am a little concerned. I have no intention of settling down to live in this city, but it is likely I will be here for at least another 6-9 months. The lease term is 12 months and is structured in such a way that were I to move out after 7 or 8 months I would be out my deposit AND the four or five months of rent left on the lease. I think that is a little unreasonable. I would be willing to pay a larger deposit or the first two months’ rent up front if the lease could be restructured so I would only be out my deposit if I ended the lease early. Currently, the rent is $475 a month with a $475 deposit. I am also barred from subletting the apartment, so even if I could find someone to take on the remainder of the lease I'm still S.O.L.

Would you look at my lease and tell me what you think I should do or give me suggestions for negotiation? My last lease was much more flexible because I was living on a University campus and I have been living with family for the last couple years. Please help!
posted by Driven to Work & Money (21 answers total)
I agree that it's pretty unreasonable. Everywhere I've lived if you broke your lease you were out of your deposit but that's it. Why don't you talk to the landlord about it? Maybe offer to pay a little bit more per month and make it a 6-month lease that rolls over month-to-month? I've seen a lot of places that offer shorter leases for higher rent.
posted by radioamy at 7:27 AM on July 14, 2014

Well, this is sort of how leases post-university work; you contract for a specific amount of time, generally a year. You can ask if you can sign a six month lease and then go month to month, but the landlord is going to need assurance of income for X months.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:28 AM on July 14, 2014 [9 favorites]

In some places, the landlord is only allowed to charge you for the months remaining if they are unable to find another tenant in that time. And they have to prove that they are trying to find one. So if it's a desirable apartment, and/or you find someone else who is willing to sign a new lease for when you leave, you might not be liable for those remaining months. Check your local rental guidelines agency or whatever to see if that's the case in your area.
posted by Grither at 7:31 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I disagree that it's unreasonable; where I'm from (NYC metro area, YMMV, check your local laws/guidelines), this is exactly what a lease is for. I suppose you could reach out to the landlord to discuss either a shorter guaranteed lease or month-to-month status, but he probably has no incentive to say yes to either of those things (and if he is interested in month-to-month, keep in mind that means he can kick YOU out early, too).
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:32 AM on July 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

that looks like the terms of most of the leases i've signed (in states all over the usa). i have never signed a lease where i could just walk away at any time with only giving up the deposit.
posted by nadawi at 7:35 AM on July 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

What state is this?

(I am a lawyer, but not your lawyer. The below does not create an attorney-client relationship).

There's a general principle of contract law that requires the non-breaching party to mitigate damages. In some states, this has been interpreted to mean that when a tenant moves out early, the landlord may only charge rent for the remaining months if s/he is unable to find a replacement tenant. If the landlord is able to find a replacement tenant, but only at a reduced rental rate, then original tenant is on the hook for the difference. See, e.g., Krasne v. Tedeschi, 436 Mass. 103, 109 (2002) ("The landlord is required to take reasonable steps to obtain a new tenant on terms that will mitigate the original tenant's liability as much as is feasible under the circumstances.").
posted by ewiar at 7:37 AM on July 14, 2014

I think its unreasonable to not let you sublet the apartment and I would ask about that clause being removed but otherwise its pretty standard.

And as to the mitigation of damages that doesn't apply in all states. In some states the landlord has no obligation to re-rent the apartment. You may want to call a local tenants association in your city and ask them about that before relying on the duty to mitigate. (IANAL, TINLA)
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:40 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I agree with TPS, this has been standard in every lease I have signed here in NYC. However in every instance the terms turned out to be negotiable.
posted by elizardbits at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2014

This is a perfectly normal lease situation in my experience, but it is also perfectly normal to negotiate from a yearly lease to a shorter one or a month-to-month situation when your plans are not certain. I'd offer $500/mo for a 6 month lease or $550 for month-to-month. You might also offer to deposit "first and last" which is a standard thing, so that if you do need to leave on short notice, the landlord already has your last month's rent in hand, which might make them more comfortable about the situation.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:46 AM on July 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is pretty standard, but also pretty difficult to enforce if you are able to find a reasonable person to take over the remainder of your lease. Talk to a lawyer.
posted by echo0720 at 7:48 AM on July 14, 2014

Your lease doesn't say you can't sublet, it says you can't sublet or assign the lease without the written permission of the landlord.
posted by melissasaurus at 7:59 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I would be willing to pay a larger deposit for a 6 month lease or pay the first three months up front for a six month lease. I don't want to offend the land lord by trying to negotiate and I completely understand why the lease is structured the way it is. I work at a law firm as a matter of fact. I'm just trying to decide if I should pass on this particular place or not. The $475 is very reasonable for the area and would allow me to still put some of my earning into savings. However, if I have to move in 9 months that savings would be swallowed up by what I would forfeit and make the entire point of moving null.
posted by Driven at 8:03 AM on July 14, 2014

I don't want to offend the land lord by trying to negotiate and I completely understand why the lease is structured the way it is.

That's nice of you think and feel that, but, this is a business transaction, not kindergarten share toys time. You only want to pay so much for the space, so tell him that. If he's a grown up, he will evaluate it as a legitimate offer. If he is a crybaby, you won't have a deal, but well, you saved yourself a headache.

Offer what you are willing to pay and the terms you are willing to agree to, and let him say no if he wants. Personally, I'd start with just asking for a 6 month lease and see how that goes.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:13 AM on July 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just wanted to pop in to say that I know subleasing is very common in places like NY but it is not as common everywhere. However, I agree that the terms may be negotiable and you should just ask.
posted by Room 641-A at 8:17 AM on July 14, 2014

Driven: I don't want to offend the land lord by trying to negotiate and I completely understand why the lease is structured the way it is.

Totally not an issue. It may very well be that he or she is just using an off-the-shelf lease form and would be very willing to change the terms. Part of the reason leases are written with longer terms is to protect the tenant -- if you sign a year lease you know the landlord isn't able to kick you out or raise the rent for a year, which is very desirable for some people. It may actually be that the landlord would prefer a shorter term, but since a year is so standard they just went with a year. It can't hurt to ask, especially about something like this.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:17 AM on July 14, 2014

You can totally sign up for a 6 month lease or even month-to-month. They're going to charge you more per month, though.
posted by empath at 8:23 AM on July 14, 2014

Is this apartment one of many that your landlord owns in a complex? If so, they may have to keep the lease terms the same across the aboard.

Regarding being responsible for the remaining months of the lease if you moved out early, would they be marketing it as available if anyone wanted to move in with a new lease (as opposed to someone subletting from you) before the end of the lease term that you signed?
posted by Shadow Boxer at 8:31 AM on July 14, 2014

That's been the terms of all the leases I signed in 12+ months of renting. The only difference was that the lease included an out if they find a new renter.

So, a theoretical: I sign a 12 month lease and decide to leave after 6 months. I tell them and they start including my apartment in what they show. If they find a new renter to move in on the start of month 10 I have paid for months 7, 8, and 9 where it was vacant.

Here's the catch - they may very well try to steer people to their other completely empty apartments; after all, mine will in theory get paid every month as it is - why not fill one that's not a revenue generator? Now, collecting from me could be more problematic since they don't have the leverage of booting me if I stop paying. But perhaps they think it's a good risk or just don't care, or there's so many vacancies they may as well take a swing.

Which gets to the meat of the matter - what's the vacancy situation NOW? If they have a lot of spots to fill then maybe they'll be more inclined to add a rider capping your liability at, say, 3 months. Or 5 or none. It really all depends - do they have to extend you this offer to get you? If they don't get you are they likely to put a different butt in that apartment within 2 weeks anyway? Their willingness to alter the terms is going to depend on what it's worth to them.

Honestly, just ask. It's a business transaction; if they would get so bent out of shape by that question then I would hazard that you really don't want to be in business with those people. The worst they can do is say no.

That said, you should consider what problem you are trying to solve here. Is this just a generalized fear of being locked down? Reasonable expectation that your job won't last 12 months? If it's the first maybe consider if this is worth worrying about. If it's the latter then perhaps they will compromise with you by providing a rider to your lease offering you an out if you lose your employment.
posted by phearlez at 8:37 AM on July 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Barring from transferring the lease to someone else outright seems unusual to me, and maybe illegal - at least in states I've lived in, the landlord would have to prove they made good faith efforts to find a new tenant in order to charge you beyond a deposit and lease breaking fee. So you could also simply check on the local laws, as you generally can't actually sign those rights away.

However, don't be afraid to negotiate on this, you aren't going to offend or create drama with anyone reasonable. I have negotiated issues on nearly all leases I've signed, and it hardly causes a blink in most cases. It is pretty much expected, and is seriously just a matter of crossing out a section by hand before signing.
posted by susanvance at 9:30 AM on July 14, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! This has given me a lot to think about. I basically just e-mailed landlord and asked if it was possible to have a 6 months lease if I put down a larger deposit. If he doesn't like it, oh well and I keep looking. I'm just generally one to scrutinize, especially if there is the possibility I could lose money. I am just very careful with my money. I blame my scottish ancestors for that trait.
posted by Driven at 9:31 AM on July 14, 2014

This sounds similar to breaklease terms on apartments I've rented in MA, NH, VA, and MD. Leases are generally for one year. But: Talk to the leasing office or landlord about it.

In VA, I had a 12-month lease, and got laid off just as I had to renew my lease. (To wit: I was told I'd be laid off in 2 months, and I had to renew my lease in 1 month.) I had no idea where I was going to end up with a new job.

I talked to the leasing office and we negotiated a 7 month lease renewal versus 12 months, but then again, I already had been living in the apartment for a year at that point.

Thankfully, I got a new job in an area that was still commutable from my apartment (1 1/2 hr each way), so I didn't HAVE to break lease. I endured a really crummy commute for 3-4 months, then moved much closer to the new job. (I wonder now if the extra money I spent on gas and general wear and tear to my car was more than the breaklease fee would have been.)

Similarly, I broke lease on the new apartment because I bought a house; I wasn't expecting to find the right house as quickly as I did. The leasing office in that case worked with me to minimize the breaklease fee, though I still ate a full month's rent (the minimum fee). Again, though, at that point I'd been living in the apartment for a year and a half.
posted by tckma at 1:30 PM on July 14, 2014

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