How do I get out of this lease?
February 4, 2015 5:03 PM   Subscribe

I need to know my options for getting out of a lease in California. We have lived in a rental home for 5+ years and just signed a one-year lease renewal in January that can be renewed every year, expecting to stay for several more years. Our landlord just announced that he is selling our place. We are trying to start a family and moving at the end of the year while I'm very pregnant or with a newborn is not an option. How can we get out of the lease?

We live in a very "hot" neighborhood and are renting the place for well under market price, so it's very likely that a new owner would want to kick us out or try to raise the rent considerably (which we can't afford). We asked our current landlord if he would sign a 2 or 3 year lease with us before the sale and he won't. We are trying to get the landlord to let us move in 60 days so we can just get out and find a new place and not have to deal with a sale, or having to move when I'm pregnant or when we have a very small baby - but we're not sure if that will work out.

What would you all do in our position?
posted by emily37 to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
Response by poster: It's also worth mentioning that our security deposit was very small and we don't care about losing it. We do, however, care about getting sued or something of that ilk.
posted by emily37 at 5:04 PM on February 4, 2015

Lawyer up, and have someone look at the terms of your lease. Owner sale seems like a great reason that it should be null and void.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:07 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Asking your landlord to let you move out in 60 was your best bet, if it's a hot neighborhood then that should work. Or just telling your landlord to put the place up for rent and agreeing to move out when they find someone.
posted by ender6574 at 5:08 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

We are trying to get the landlord to let us move in 60 days

Have you been told no?
posted by Lyn Never at 5:22 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

If he's going to sell the place to another landlord and the area is hot, he should be able to find new renters at a higher rental price with a longer contract, which makes it more attractive to the next landlord.

If he's going to sell the place to someone who wants to live there, not having you on a lease through the end of the year is more attractive to the next landlord.

Either way, you not being there is good for him.
posted by Etrigan at 5:24 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Start with getting out your lease and reading it.

Whatever is in the lease is the worst case. The lease will spell out what happens if you move out early - could be you are liable for the full amount or, more likely, you have to keep paying rent until the landlord could find a new tenant. (You won't get sued or sent to collections unless you refuse to pay what you agreed to pay in the lease - it is legal contract.) You should also check and see if you can sublet - not as clean as having the new tenant find their own lease but it might be a good option.

Second, check with a tenant rights organization for your area - they can tell you if there are terms in your lease that aren't legal or if you have additional rights due to sale etc.

Of course, you can work out something with the landlord, that would be best and as other people said, it might be in his interest to let you out early.
posted by metahawk at 5:26 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Where in California are you? I just went through this is Los Angeles and have some very specific Los Angeles advice.
posted by roger ackroyd at 5:31 PM on February 4, 2015

I won't comment on the legal aspects, but just practically speaking if you are paying well below market then it is very likely the new owner wants you out anyway. Either they are moving in, in which case they'd evict you, or they are buying to rent, in which case they want to take advantage of the "hot" market. Your 60 day offer is very reasonable and I notice he hasn't said no yet. If he does say no, ask him what he's realistically expecting before the transfer of possession and see if you would be willing to meet part way.

Where exactly do you live? Is it a place where you could realistically sublet to a student or someone in town seasonally, e.g. for an internship?
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2015

Response by poster: I'm in Los Angeles county, but not city.
posted by emily37 at 5:34 PM on February 4, 2015

It is likely that the lease contains a clause that will allow the owner to transfer the lease to a subsequent owner, so a sale of the property would not nullify the lease.

It's not clear to me from your question how far along the landlord is in the process of selling the property. If he just putting the property out to market, he may prefer to market it as a leased property, rather than as a vacant property, even at a below market rent. He would be saying to potential buyers "See, you won't even have to worry about leasing it out until next year - it's got solid rental income from a reliable, long term tenant." So he would be reluctant to break your lease.

If he's farther along in the sales process, perhaps with a buyer in contract, that contract may prohibit him from making any changes to the lease without the buyer's consent. So he may be unable to break your lease.

If he doesn't bite on your proposal to move in 60 days, I like the idea of asking him to market the property to a new tenant, being fully cooperative with showing the space and willingness to move to accommodate a new tenant. If he rents the property at a market rent, it increases the value of the property to a buyer and he can get a higher sales price. This would be attractive to the landlord and/or to any new owner. No loss for vacancy and potential increase in value.
posted by rekrap at 6:05 PM on February 4, 2015

I have been through this in the past year, and I'm still too exhausted from all of it to type a screed here. (You can MeMail me if you want, though.)

That said, one thing that will be helpful for you to know is that if you can find a suitable replacement -- someone who meets your landlord's qualifications -- the landlord must make a good-faith effort to lease the property to them. [Good info here.]

You can indemnify yourself against your current landlord's potential hesitations by listing the house and showing it to prospective tenants, then giving the landlord a list of people who would be interested in signing a lease, at market value, if you leave. (Be upfront with the interested parties so they know that you're not the one who will be leasing the place, and let them know that whatever monthly rent you quote them is an estimate.) If you save the landlord the headache of finding new tenants, they're going to be much more amenable to dissolving your lease.

An added benefit to this plan is that a) if it takes a while for the house to sell, your landlord is raking in more money per month than when you were the tenants, and b) the landlord can tell potential buyers that the property leases for $XX/month -- that market value rate -- and that's going to make the property more attractive to buyers. It's win/win for the landlord who's selling.
posted by mudpuppie at 7:05 PM on February 4, 2015

Some areas in LA county have rent control (Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, LA city, I think a few other areas as well - unincorporated areas are not rent controlled). If you are under rent control, you may be able to stay if the building is sold, depending on a number of factors. If you are under rent control and would prefer to stay, it may be worth talking to a lawyer.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:20 PM on February 4, 2015

Renting to someone at market rate would help your landlord sell the place at a higher price. If you're pretty far below market rate, even being vacant would probably be preferable. Unless they really need cashflow, I'd be surprised if they didn't let you out of the lease.
posted by salvia at 9:09 PM on February 4, 2015

When our landlord put his home on the market, we switched to month-to-month and he dropped the rent by 10%. We kept the place looking nice (had kids and another on the way) and were agreeable to showings.

If the home you're in has the potential to sell quickly, you being month-to-month is good all around.

Whether by design or circumstance, being told about the house going on the market just after signing a new lease is pretty crappy. Landlord should grant this change out of fairness.
posted by Feisty at 11:04 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

I know about apartment buildings, but not house rentals, in LA. I do know the laws are different for these types of rentals.

Long story short, you need to consult a lawyer for at least short term advice. I know tenant attorneys in LA sometimes charge a fee of about $40 to $100 to do a quick phone consult - you need one of these.

I'm questioning the legality of a new lease vs the announcent to sell. I'm pretty sure that is hinky. Odds are, a new owner would want to take possession upon sale and not keep you on - there are possibilities of buyouts, eviction, your lease might not even be enforceable per this announcement - I just don't know. Lawyer. Stat.

The owner was not doing you ANY favors with this new lease agreement. In apartments, you are legally month-to-month after the first year in CA and only require notice of rent increases, no new lease!, I'm not sure you needed to even sign a new lease as an existing tenant.

Consult a lawyer. Find leverage and use it.

Congratulations on starting a family!! You're doing the right thing by making plans to be in a stable long-term situation before you get pregnant.
posted by jbenben at 12:27 AM on February 5, 2015

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