What are my rights here? Tenant in Virginia
April 26, 2015 1:37 PM   Subscribe

Hi out there! I'm moving away at the end of May from Charlottesville, Virginia for a new job on the west coast and I have a lease that goes until July 30. My landlord has kindly offered to terminate my lease early, and has said that it is on the condition that he finds someone else to take over the apartment. However!

He's advertising the place for $75 more a month than my current rent, and frankly he hasn't done any improvements since I've lived here. In fact, instead of repairing the central cooling (which busted for no reason last summer), he put in two window units (in a 4 room plus hallway apartment).

I'm more than a little concerned that I'm going to be stuck with the rent because he's a crappy landlord and he's raising the rent!

Does anyone out there know if I have any rights in this situation? Should I try and get anything in writing? Are there any VA resources for tenant's rights?
posted by ethel to Law & Government (17 answers total)
Your lease obligates you to pay through July. Your landlord is offering to do you a favor by attempting to rent it out early. He can certainly charge whatever he wants for the apartment and make whatever improvements he wishes.

I don't understand from your question what you see as the problem with his behavior.
posted by deadweightloss at 1:44 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm confused about what you need to know your rights on? The only thing I'd get in writing is his offer to cancel early upon finding a new tenant though sounds like it is in his best interest to do that as well since he is going to be renting it for more money.

What he rents the apt for after you leave isn't at all your concern. Are you thinking that he isn't going to find someone because it is too much money and that he is somehow trying to screw you? You owe him through the end of July either way so not really an issue.

This is a landlord doing something nice for you.
posted by magnetsphere at 1:46 PM on April 26, 2015

Best answer: There are others more knowledgeable, and perhaps with Charlottesville, but your lease is your lease and is good for the duration of the lease. it is customary practice for landlords to permit an early termination if they are able to rent it--I believe they are expected to make reasonable efforts. A failure to make "reasonable" efforts might let you off the hook but I doubt if you are in a position to determine what are reasonable efforts. I can assure you that raising the rent &75.00 would not be unreasonable and might be expected. it is the market that determines rent not the tenant. If I were you I would work to make the apartment as attractive and rentable as possible rather than focus on the landlord. I personally believe he/she is being reasonable.
posted by rmhsinc at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry for a confusing question. I am trying to understand my rights in this situation, and gain some perspective on if the landlord is being a reasonable human in a situation I'm not familiar with and have not had experience with yet in my life. Maybe I have no rights (which seems to be the case), but that is helpful to know / hear.
posted by ethel at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2015

If you are affiliated with The University in any way (or even if you are not) go to Madison House and ask them to help. When I was a student in the opposite situation, landlord wanted us out prior to end of the lease, we went to Madison House and they had a staff attorney who worked us through the various options. (We went to court which took a few months and then negotiated in court to leave after final exams but before lease was up at end of June.) This was a few decades ago, but I have a child in Charlottesville now, and Madison House still does its thing.
posted by AugustWest at 2:11 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Maybe I have no rights (which seems to be the case), but that is helpful to know / hear.

You have all sorts of rights. You also have responsibilities - including, in this case, paying your landlord all the money you said you would when you signed the lease, which includes a monthly rent payment through the month of July. Your landlord has a right to get this money from you, but has offered to give up that right if he can find someone else to take your space. That's very generous of them - there's no reason they have to do this for you. You seem to think you're the one getting screwed here, but it's your landlord who is dealing with someone who is asking to be excused from a legal contract.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 2:15 PM on April 26, 2015 [4 favorites]

AugustWest - this isn't about the landlord trying to oust ethel prior to the end of the lease, this is about ethel trying to terminate the lease early.

ethel - I still don't understand what rights in particular you are referring to here. I am pretty sure this is not what you're saying, but what you sound like you're asking is whether or not you have the right to control the rate he rents the place for after you leave.

You have the right to stay until your lease is up. If you choose to leave early, you have the responsibility to pay your rent until your lease is up. Landlord is giving you Door #3: you are off the hook if he re-rents it.

He is raising the rent because, as rmhsinc said, the market determines the rate and he believes that the market is currently willing to pay $75/month more than you currently do. I have lived in four apartments, and each time I leave a place the landlord raises the rent by at least $100/month. I cannot imagine a single reason why he would raise the rate $75/month in order to keep from re-renting the place. First, $75 is not enough to deter people. Second, he wants to make more money. Third, the landlord - any landlord - wants the least complicated situation possible: a tenant who lives there who is paying rent.
posted by good lorneing at 2:21 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

He's advertising the place for $75 more a month than my current rent, and frankly he hasn't done any improvements since I've lived here.

It is not necessary for the landlord to improve a unit for the landlord to increase the rent on the unit. Rental rates are set by the market, not by amenities.

In fact, instead of repairing the central cooling (which busted for no reason last summer), he put in two window units (in a 4 room plus hallway apartment).

This is not relevant to your lease, and hence, is not relevant to this question.

I'm more than a little concerned that I'm going to be stuck with the rent because he's a crappy landlord and he's raising the rent!

You're already stuck with the rent on the place. You signed a lease - a binding agreement that you would pay rent in exchange for staying in the apartment. Your landlord has the duty to "mitigate damages" in case you break the lease, and you are obligated to pay rent to the landlord until the place is re-rented. All that means is that the landlord has to make a "reasonable effort" to re-rent the place if you leave prior to the end of the lease. However, the landlord is only required to do that after you leave. There is no requirement for the landlord to do anything before you leave. In other words, the landlord is already doing more than the law requires.

Does anyone out there know if I have any rights in this situation?

The law does not require your landlord to do anything in your scenario until you move. You have not moved yet. Hence, your landlord is acting legally.

Should I try and get anything in writing?

Once the place is re-rented, it's probably a good idea to get confirmation that your lease has been mutually terminated.

Are there any VA resources for tenant's rights?

Any effort you make trying to pursue those resources is wasted effort on your part. You should be helping the landlord rent the place, not trying to pursue your landlord in a court of law.
posted by saeculorum at 2:34 PM on April 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

It isn't crazy to ask about the landlord's duties in this situation.

While you do indeed have a legal obligation to pay whatever you agreed to pay in your lease, in some states the landlord has a legal duty to "mitigate damages" if you abandon the property early. (Virginia appears to have such a duty for residential leases, but I'm not a Virginia lawyer.)

Attempting to rerent the property is a classic example of mitigating damages, and it would then be another legal question whether raising the rent and deferring maintenance are reasonable performance of that duty to mitigate. That's something you could get legal advice on if you want to get a lawyer.

Now I don't know the answers to those questions and I don't even know if it's worth your time and resources to pursue them. But if you do want to pursue them, you might want to frame your inquiry that way.
posted by willbaude at 2:49 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

This sounds perfectly reasonable to me. Like the others said, it's the market that determines rent.

If it makes you feel better, think about how your rent is less than what he expects the market will bear now he's advertising again. I once gave notice on a place I'd lived in 18 months (I was month to month by then) and they advertised it at a *lower* rent than I'd been paying because the rental vacancy rate had increased substantionally since the crazy times when I signed up and they knew the market well enough to know that it'd stay vacant too long at the higher price.

Your landlord isn't increasing the rent to an amount that screws you because that would screw him worse. He's covered until the end of July anyway. If he puts it too high he risks it staying vacant after July and the $75 isn't going to be worth losing X per month if it doesn't rent (unless you're getting a crazy bargain and $75 represents a significant percentage of X). While a rental increase can seem high to a former/existing tenant, the risk to the landlord is the loss of the entire rent for the period a place stays vacant, and then the stigma a place gets when it remains available and being advertised week after week. He will have considered this before determining the increase amount he's chosen.
posted by kitten magic at 3:24 PM on April 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

My reading of this is you are worried because he is looking for higher rent from his new tenants that that means he can raise your rent in the mean time. Your rent is set at what ever price you agreed to when you signed your contract (assuming a normal sort of rental agreement) until July when that contract expires and you have to negotiate a new rate. If you end up staying and renewing your contract, you may end up paying a higher rent, but that was always a chance as he can set the rate at whatever he wants at that point. What he charges the new tenant in no way effects your current rental agreement and is not something that you need to worry about.
posted by wwax at 4:39 PM on April 26, 2015

As landlord I generally advertise at a higher rent than my outgoing tenant is paying and sometimes I get all the increase I want and sometimes only a bit and sometimes I relet at the old rate. In any case, you're not being disadvantaged here, this is not your problem or concern.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:59 PM on April 26, 2015

FWIW (not very much) - where I am, landlords are only entitled to full compensation for their loss when a lease is broken if they are doing what they can to mitigate your losses. To me, it seems like they are taking two bites at the cherry here - they have you guaranteed to continue paying rent, and they have the chance to get more money than they otherwise would (and potentially lengthening the period where the property is vacant, and the length of time you have to keep paying rent.) Like I said, the legal situation where I am has no bearing on you, but I wanted to add that this is not necessarily faulty reasoning - it's the reasoning that tribunals have used where I am.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:14 PM on April 26, 2015

>My reading of this is you are worried because he is looking for higher rent from his new tenants that that means he can raise your rent in the mean time.

I think, instead, that the OP is concerned that the higher rent will reduce the chance that a new tenant will be found.

I agree that the landlord has no obligation to advertise at the current rental rate.

>[The air conditioning problem] is not relevant to your lease, and hence, is not relevant to this question.

It actually might have been relevant at one time, if that failure rendered the unit non-habitable. This is of course Bermuda High country. But the OP did not speak up at that time. Now that issue is not relevant except to the extent that it, again, may deter new tenants.

But the rates and the conditions are all matters for the market price, which the OP cannot control or affect.
posted by megatherium at 5:36 PM on April 26, 2015

Hi, I am a Virginia landlord. (I rent out my condo in Northern Virginia, live in NYC.) FWIW, I am a landlord by circumstance, not by want.

If it's helpful, this is what the standard common Virginia lease I use says about early termination: (There are provisions for military service, which is what the 'except as provided herein' refers to)

EARLY TERMINATION OF OCCUPANCY. Except as provided herein, Tenant shall
not be released from liability for rent and other charges due under Lease unless Landlord agrees in writing to release Tenant from such liability. Tenant’s vacating the Premises prior to the end of Lease Term will not cancel any claims Tenant or Landlord may have arising out of events occurring during Lease Term or during any holdover by Tenant.

It sounds like you are worried that if he doesn't find a tenant, you'll be stuck with the rent. This could be the case - unless you mutually agree to terminate the lease early and get it in writing.

Can you quickly look and see what the market is (or at least, what appears to be) for similiar apartments in your area? Rent is determined by the market, not improvements. I could improve the hell out of my place, and if it's priced higher than the rest of the apartments around me, I am sure it will sit on the market until I adjust it appropriately.

An early termination with minimal consequences is a nice thing for a landlord to offer - it sounds like your landlord is being reasonable but also trying to cover his or herself in case the unit cannot be rented.

IANYL but your obligations are for the duration of your lease. Perhaps your landlord would be willing to work out something in relation to any security deposit you have in escrow, in case he cannot rent it and you need to leave. Not ideal, but perhaps that is a happy medium if he cannot find a renter, and you need to leave.
posted by carmenghia at 5:58 PM on April 26, 2015

I've done a fair amount of rental law in two different markets, and this is a common scenario that I've dealt with. One thing that others have missed in here is your likely ability to assign your lease. I haven't done VA rental law, but I suspect the option here is not all that different from other jurisdictions.

The first point to keep in mind, as others have pointed out, is that the landlord is entitled to the full term and price of the one year lease up until August. Meaning that if you leave today, while he has to mitigate damages, you'd be responsible for the cost of the damages, which is however many months the unit goes unrented up until August. Crappy landlord or not, the point is that you're the one leaving and breaking the agreement you had, so it's your responsibility to ensure he isn't damaged by you breaking the contract.

What you can do is to work with him to assign the lease. You go out and advertise the place and find potential tenants, they would pay the current rent you pay, from the time the lease is assigned and assumed to August - after which they can renegotiate with the landlord at a new rate. Advertise on craigslist. Post signs. Ask friends. Take in a couple applications and whatever fee the landlord charges for the credit check and let him approve one of them. You then sign an agreement with the new tenant and landlord saying you assign the remainder of your lease to new tenant starting on date x, and landlord releases you from further obligations.

In many cases the landlords and new tenant would simply opt to sign a 1 year lease at that point, with the rent maintained up until August, then the new rate from that point on. It's simpler and cleaner for everyone - but again your responsibility is only up until August and finding someone willing to take up that helm.

That fulfills the extent of your responsibilities, and also helps shield you from the possibility that the unit goes unrented while he's advertising.
posted by Karaage at 7:23 PM on April 26, 2015

Sounds like your landlord is being generous. Have you checked your lease to confirm the terms of early termination? My dad recently had to break a lease early and they only asked for 2 months rent. (Actually in our case, the lease had a typo that said "200" not "200%", so we just owed them $200 per advice from a lawyer) Not all leases make you pay until the lease is up.

WRT your question about improvements/repairs, you are correct that tenants do have rights. But these pertain to basic living conditions like safety hazards, running water/heat, etc. Your landlord is not obligated to fix up the place to make it more attractive to a new renter. If I were you, I would ask him if you could do minor things like have carpets cleaned, repaint, etc. on your own dime. After all, the burden is all on you and it's in your best interest to get someone in there before July.

Good luck!
posted by jraz at 10:32 AM on April 27, 2015

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