Give me a break on breaking my lease?
April 13, 2015 6:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for some perspective on what my options are for breaking a lease in Cook County, Illinois. My wife is 2 months pregnant and we currently live in a tiny one-bedroom apartment in a nice suburb of Chicago. We want to move into a larger apartment closer to my parents, just a town over, before the baby arrives. [More after jump.]

I'm legally blind, so I'll be needing to rely on my parents somewhat for car rides. We'd like to move before the baby arrives to reduce stress. We have a great deal lined up with my parents who are generously going to let us rent their three-bedroom condo rental unit at a below-market rate. It's a terrific deal, really roomy and in a prime location making it extremely walkable for me since I can't drive. The catch is we need to move in on the first of August, since my parents can't afford to keep their rental unit unoccupied for very long. Our current lease is up in mid-November. So there's a 3 1/2 month gap.

I understand that breaking a lease is bad and puts us at the mercy of our current landlord, which is a large apartment company. We're on good terms with the property manager, having lived in this apartment for the last four years, always paying rent on time and not causing any issues. We recently talked to the property manager about breaking the lease in August (four months from now), trying to give her a huge heads up. She was pleasant to us about it but said that the company's penalty for breaking a lease is two month's rent! This would be more than $2,000 for us. It feels onerous.

Our lease contract reads:

"If the Lease is ended or you vacate the Apartment before the end of your Lease term, rent and additional rent for the remainder of the Lease term will become immediately due and payable. If we re-rent the Apartment to a new resident before your Lease term has ended, any rent we receive will be applied as a credit to the money you owe us. You will be responsible for a turnover fee to reimburse us for the costs of making the Apartment ready for a new resident at an earlier date than we planned, including but not limited to, repainting, repairing and advertising costs."

I don't know if any of this is typical for breaking a lease or if I have other options that I could legally/realistically pursue with the property manager. I don't want to involve lawyers or stir up any acrimony about this. I'd like a win-win situation. I feel like I don't really know my rights or how to best deal with this beyond just "cough up a couple thousand dollars."

The property manager said that she was going to be waiving an extra $500 'breaking lease' fee because we're "wonderful residents" and said that we'd get our security deposit back in the normal manner.

One idea I had was to sublease the apartment for several months until our lease was up. Our rental agreement says that we could do this with written permission from the company. I haven't talked to the property manager about this idea yet and I'm surprised that she didn't bring it up as a possibility when I groaned at the 'two months' penalty. I also don't know if the company is supposed to make an honest attempt at re-renting our unit as soon as possible, and if they did so and were successful, then if this would free us from any further entanglements. I'm not sure if there's any other ideas that I could work with here, to reduce this $2,000+ penalty that I'd much, much rather spend on the incoming baby Felineoid Entity. Of course, if that's what I truly have to do with no other recourse, then I'll do it. I'd appreciate some perspective and ideas. Thanks for your consideration.
posted by FelineoidEntity to Human Relations (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Could you do some of the leg work of finding a new tenant? When we had to break our lease in DC, we offered to post it on craigslist, have an open house, take applications, and thin down the list of applicants for our landlord. I know you're in a larger building with a management company so it might be a bit different, but if you can find someone to take over your lease neither of you are out any money. (You might even offer to pay for the $35/person background checks.)
posted by Flamingo at 6:39 AM on April 13, 2015 [2 favorites]

Call CARPLS or look through ILAO. Do not listen to anyone at Ask.Me--including me, who practices landlord-tenant law in Cook County. Get any promise regarding waiving terms in your lease from your management company in writing.

This part is not really legal advice and are the sorts of things you should talk to CARPLS about. Generally speaking, you can only end your lease under the terms laid out by the lease (unless such terms violate the Chicago RLTO) or by mutual agreement (GET IT IN WRITING). Same is true of subletting, but subletting does not relieve you of your responsibilities under the lease. Your subtenant does not pay her rent? you owe it. She sets the place on fire? it's your responsibility. Subletting is generally speaking a bad idea and you are generally better off negotiating an early end to your lease.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:02 AM on April 13, 2015 [4 favorites]

I ran in to this (not in Cook County) when I broke my last lease. My (great) landlord pointed out that I was still on the hook for the next 5 months of rent, per our lease (I, too, had been a model tenant for several years). I was in the process of buying an expensive condo, and really couldn't afford more than $5000 in rent. So I started searching for a new tenant, and found someone who interviewed with him and was ready to sign a lease... and then flaked not long before my move.

I was pretty dispirited about having to pay (at least!) another month worth of rent And start the tenant search over. Because, as I said, he was a great landlord, he offered to use his usual listing agent to try to find my replacement if I paid another month's rent. It was a good market, so they found me a replacement tenant within the month, and he even refunded me the amount I'd paid that would've overlapped with them.

So the advice above to seek legal advice is correct. But I tell you my story to let you know that it's likely you may have to pay some money to break the lease, but that if it's re-rented quickly, that amount may decrease.
posted by ldthomps at 9:47 AM on April 13, 2015

Also try reaching out to the Metropolitan Tenants Organization for assistance. They're a long running non profit in Chicago.
posted by meeeese at 11:51 PM on April 13, 2015

Read the rest of your lease carefully and check the local laws (should be available online). There is usually some law that states if there is a family emergency you can break the lease without consequences. Sounds like having a pregnant wife and a blind husband who won't be able to drive her to the ER in case of an emergency counts as a reason to move to a location where you have more support.

And yes, usually you are only responsible for paying rent until the landlord finds someone else to rent to, so if you can find another tenant to move in, you only owe for the ~2-4 week period until the new tenants move in.

Also, "typical wear and tear" is covered by the landlord, not your security deposit, so don't let them charge you for painting, re-doing the floors/carpet, covering up nail holes - that is all usually typical wear and tear after a tenant occupies an apartment for 4 years - but check the lease and local laws.

Also, if they say they will return the deposit to you, get it in writing.

Another thought - can your parents rent the place on airbnb or vrbo or do a short term rental from August - November, so you don't have to break your lease? Maybe focus on finding tenants for them to rent to and get income so you are not in a rush to move in August.
posted by at 6:57 AM on April 14, 2015

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