To be or not to be (a rental shark)?
July 8, 2015 6:44 PM   Subscribe

We were given the power to get rid of a tenant in the apartment we want. It's the perfect suite for us: affordable, clean, luminous, located at the edge of downtown in a heritage-style house in a cute neigborhood. The landlord is game: we can have the apartment if we want it. But there is a rub! The tenant only wants to sublet it for 4 months. The landlord, however, has given us the choice whether to rent long term, or only till tenant returns.

Apparently, there was a misunderstanding. The landlord thought his tenant was leaving for good. Hence, in the ad, there was no mention of this being a temporary rental. When the misunderstanding was discovered (during the viewing), the landlord said he felt he had to honor the ad by allowing us to move in indefinitely. He also said that he is retired and doesn't want to deal with rentals back and forth.

The current tenant, a student leaving for an internship abroad, only actually wants to sublet the apartment for 4 months while he is away. If we moved in temporarily, we would have to look for a new apartment in January. In itself, this would not be infeasible, as we only found out last week that we need to find a new apartment. We were prepared to put in the effort, even if it means temporary residence in a sub-optimal place.

We really really really like this appartment, though.

So, clearly, these are our options:

1) Take it long term. Kick out the student, secure our material happiness.
2) Take it short term. Help out the student, feel altruistic about it, find a new place in January.
3) Walk away, find a new place.

As much as I strive to be a good person in general, I am having trouble accepting that somehow ethics oblige us to walk away, or only rent short term. On the other hand, my better half is more scrupulous and has bigger doubts about it. (We are writing this together, using my user).

What would you do? Some context: small university town, students from the same university (but unlikely to ever meet as in different programs/levels, in a big university) involved in both parties.
posted by ipsative to Human Relations (25 answers total)
The person with the obligation to the current occupant is the owner - they have a contract with him and it's telling about what your dealings with him will be like if he's so willing to screw over the other guy to make life easier on himself. He really owes you nothing, but he owes his tenant to stick to the terms of his lease. Don't put yourself in the middle of this and don't let him make you the bad guy. Take the short term offer and tell him you'd be interested in a longer term lease if the current tenant's plans change.
posted by cecic at 6:49 PM on July 8, 2015 [23 favorites]

I think the landlord is lying. I think he set this whole thing up to get the student out and is making you do the dirty work. I think he sounds lazy which is not a trait you want in the landlord of a small property.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:53 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

Walk away, find a new place. You're not going to feel good about putting the tenant out, and you'll resent having to move after 4 months.
posted by coldhotel at 6:57 PM on July 8, 2015 [7 favorites]

The good karma thing to do would be to sublet the apartment (so no one else yanks the lease out from under the current tenant) and let the tenant know that his landlord's willing to fuck him over like this, if he doesn't already. That's not the best or most convenient thing for you, of course, but it's the most helpful.

Imagine how shitty it would be to leave the country for four months and, either immediately before the trip or at some point during, be informed that nope, you will not have a home to return to as you'd originally planned.

You could also walk away from this apartment and wash your hands of the whole thing, and no one would blame you. But please don't kick another person out of their lease.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

I wouldn't want to rent from a guy who's so blasé about effectively kicking out one of his own tenants for some (bullshit) misunderstanding.

What happens in the future when he gets tired of renting to you?
posted by phunniemee at 7:07 PM on July 8, 2015 [37 favorites]

What does the law say?

How is the student subletting through the landlord with all of his stuff in the apartment?? This does not make sense to me.

If the student is moving ALL of his stuff out, it is not a sublet. Rent it!

If the student is leaving his stuff there and you are paying rent through him, it's a sublet.

If the student leaves his stuff there but you are paying rent directly to the owner, in my jurisdiction, the student would have abandoned his lease, you would be legal tenant after 2 weeks living there, and the landlord could deduct the cost of disposing the student's belongings from the student's deposit.

I don't know what you do - but do you see the difference?

If the unit is empty of belongings, sign the lease and move in. The landlord is renting you his property.

The student can find a new apartment if/when he returns.

If you will be living amongst the student's belongings -- RUN.
posted by jbenben at 7:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Landlords are not obligated to honour ads they post in the same way as they are obligated to honour the leases which they signed.

None of this passes the smell test for me.
posted by jeather at 7:25 PM on July 8, 2015 [11 favorites]

Why are you asking the internet for permission be shitty? This seems like a no-brainer to me.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 7:26 PM on July 8, 2015 [14 favorites]

This sounds sketch. I don't trust the landlord at all. I would find a new place, if that's at all possible.
posted by J. Wilson at 7:26 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is really weird. Door #3.
posted by notyou at 7:26 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Taking off to a foreign country for four months and expecting a landlord to eat the loss or find a subletter is actually a pretty bad thing to do. You're not being the jerk here and neither is the landlord. As long as their stuff is gone then go for it.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 7:32 PM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

I think you can only make the decision when you get the straight story about what the legal obligations are. If there is a written lease, have either the tenant or landlord send you a copy of it. If there is no lease, and the tenant is simply hoping to come back in 4 months, one thing you could do to appease your concerns is tell the tenant and landlord you will give them a week to find an actual 4 month let and if they don't have that signed contract by a week say, sign a year lease.
posted by AugustWest at 7:42 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

yeah, the landlord is not the bad guy here. go for it, take the apartment.
posted by jayder at 7:56 PM on July 8, 2015

Best answer: It's Golden Rule time.

You're the student. How would you feel if you got treated in this way?

Now you're you again. Do you want to make someone else feel that way?

Seriously, that's the beginning and end of the question. Don't fuck people over is a pretty solid ethical framework for living one's life, I feel.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 8:05 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Your answers gave us a lot to think about, and we appreciate everyone's input!

We are positive this was 100% an honest misunderstanding, and not staged or manipulated to get rid of the tenant or make us the bad guys. The landlord is a 70+ year old retiree, well-meaning, maybe too well-meaning, and we are sure he merely wanted to spare (himself? us?) any pain. We witnessed the discussion in which the misunderstanding was revealed, and it's just beyond any doubt.

My SO is calling up the tenant to let him know that, no, we won't kick him out of his apartment. Whether we'll take the short lease or keep looking, that's something we're both going to sleep on tonight. Due to our current circumstances (other stuff going on in life, especially timing issues), this offer is more attractive than it might seem at first sight. So if we move in and have time until January to look for something good, we could relax for now, carry on with other pressing business.

And absolutely, we don't want to screw anyone over. It wasn't as clear to me (clearer to my SO though) that this is what taking the long lease meant, but now it's clearer. Thanks guys.
posted by ipsative at 8:12 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think the ethics, as well as the legal side of things, have been covered enough to give you a starting point to decide what you will do.

So let's talk about the practical part of your rental needs; you're in a university town. Which pretty much means that rental inventory is high in the summer, and close to non-existent the rest of the year. Maybe that's not true in your town, but how confident are you that it will be easy to find a new place when (if?) you move out in January? Are you in California or is there actual winter weather where you are? How much would it suck to have to move if there's snow on the ground?

Just from a practical standpoint I would walk and find somewhere that I could go into a straight longterm lease right off the bat.
posted by vignettist at 8:18 PM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

he owes his tenant to stick to the terms of his lease.

expecting a landlord to eat the loss or find a subletter is actually a pretty bad thing to do.

I agree with AugustWest: the story depends on what the legal obligations are. Most pertinently here: the ethics depend on what the legal obligations are. Because otherwise, we don't know who was planning to shirk their legal obligations to whom.

My SO is calling up the tenant to let him know that, no, we won't kick him out of his apartment.

It would be reasonable to rescind this offer in the light of further information.
posted by feral_goldfish at 8:59 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

What you could do if you really love the place is keep your foot in the door with the LL by saying while you don't feel comfortable taking it now, could they please let you know if it becomes vacant in the future. Ask the student the same thing. What do you have to lose? They may wish to leave in a year or so and you might be ready to jump on the opportunity then.

What I wouldn't do is take it for the four months. That's because I always underestimate the stress, expense and time involved in moving. Twice in a year? No thanks!

Of course, if you don't take the four months, LL might give it long term to the next people who apply. So it while it would be altruistic of you to take it, don't make it your problem. Make sure if you take it for the four months it's because it suits you.
posted by lucien at 9:16 PM on July 8, 2015

Some people are talking about being kind/fair to the student, but I'm actually not sure how the heck the student thought this was an acceptable arrangement to begin with or is being kind/fair to the landlord.

I'm on GREAT terms with my landlord, the absolute best (seriously we go out to dinner once a month to chat and I helped saline infuse her senile cat every other day for four months until he passed), but if I said, "oh, I'm going somewhere for four months, sublet the apartment while we are gone!" she would have NONE of that nonsense, friendly feelings or no. Because as far as I understand renting, is not a landlord's job to manage finding sublettors, a landlord finds people to lease an apartment and SOMETIMES (but not always!) that lease allows sublettors but finding them and managing them is the job of the tenant, not the landlord.

I can completely see a situation where a student didn't understand how the world worked and then tried to bulldoze over a low key retired small time landlord into accepting this arrangement after the fact. The landlord is probably very eager to rent to people who are not students because of this sort of irresponsible bullshit.

This doesn't necessarily mean you have it free/easy to take the apartment--the landlord might have to go through formal eviction proceedings for the apartment to be available free and clear and you might not want to wait around for that mess.
posted by foxfirefey at 10:09 PM on July 8, 2015 [10 favorites]

As someone who's had the misfortune to have dealt with a lot of shitty landlords, this is setting off all kinds of alarms for me.

I get where foxfirefey and others are coming from that if presented as stated it's the truth the the student is being kind of pollyannaish about renting here... i think this entire story stinks.

I would be having a similar but stronger gut reaction to you if i was in this situation and i would just walk. Something doesn't add up here. Whether it's the story or the situation itself remain to be seen, but it just doesn't completely make real life sense or as stated above pass the smell test.

It might be ok to sublet it for the 4 months as you mentioned in your update, but i don't know if i'd want to live in an apartment managed by this person at all. This is way too much weird drama for a place you don't even live in yet.
posted by emptythought at 4:08 AM on July 9, 2015

In your situation I would do what you have done, so have a thumbs-up!
posted by Drexen at 9:31 AM on July 9, 2015

I don't think the ethics oblige you to stay for only 4 months.

Ethics never ask that you disadvantage yourself over others. If putting yourself at disadvantage gives someone a much larger benefit over which they, anyway, have a natural claim, there would be ethical conundrum.

If you stay for only 4 months, you are doing what the student wants and harming the landlord who "doesn't want to deal with rentals back and forth" and also loses his natural claim of choosing his renters and deciding who stays in the house for the long term. You are also harming yourself about having to find another house and moving again.

If you stay for long term, you are harming the student and helping the landlord. If the student is taking out all his stuff for the duration, the only harm for him is having to search for a new house when he comes back. He doesn't have any natural claim to continue staying in this house as he is not adhering to the terms of the lease and will not be paying any compensation to the landlord for the inconvenience of getting a new tenant and change in rentals.

So, basically, the harm for 1st scenario is more. In fact, if you look at cumulative benefits, given that you seem to be married and have a family, your costs of moving out after 4 months would be more than the student's costs of moving into another apartment.

So, in terms of cumulative benefits, its better that you stay for long term and the student finds another apartment.

So, unless there is a reason to believe that the student would find it much more difficult than you to move into another house, you should definitely sign the long term lease.
posted by TheLittlePrince at 10:29 AM on July 9, 2015

Just take over the apartment and let the poor student figure out own his way in life. Student existence is often transitory by nature. If the poor student really wanted to keep the place, he would pay rent in advance for as long as he was gone, or he would arrange his own sublet agreement to his liking. I have limited sympathy for the poor student. He's young, he'll live, it will be a learning experience for him.
posted by ovvl at 5:15 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]

Wait, so is the situation that the student asked the landlord to rent the place out, and moved out all his stuff? That seems likely because the landlord apparently was advertising the place. If so, the more I think about it, the less and less sympathy I have for the student's situation. He can find a new place. If he really wanted to keep this place, it was his job to find a subletter on his own and/or to pay the rent for the four months he will be gone.
posted by J. Wilson at 8:53 AM on July 10, 2015

Response by poster: Apparently, it happened like this:

The student's girlfriend was the one who spoke to the landlord, who posted an ad right after that talk. Somehow they misunderstood each other, because the student was expecting to look for a temporary tenant and leave his stuff in the apartment.

After we visited, they changed the ad to reflect the 4 months-limit. Since we were the first/only ones who responded to the original ad, the landlord wanted to honor the fact that we took the time to ask for an appointment and go over there.

This is the top apartment of a two-storey house. The landlord occupies the bottom floor. Also, there seems to be no lease, at least no written lease between this tenant and landlord (tax issues, we think). The current tenant has had no trouble with this landlord (clearly, because he wants to stay there after he returns), and really we have no reason to suspect anything bad.

We have decided to stay there for the 4 months, because the apartment is well furnished. For various reasons (busy during term time, and the fact that I am only going to live there permanently starting November - we are in the process of immigrating and settling down), buying our own furniture right now is a bigger pain than we want to deal with.

There WILL be a lease/contract, though, and the landlord has agreed. We wouldn't rent anywhere without one.

given that you seem to be married and have a family

This was adorable and amusing to us. We are not married, we have no kids. (But aww!) So it is actually easier for us to move around now, than it is for the student.
posted by ipsative at 6:44 PM on July 10, 2015

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