Breaking a sublease?
February 6, 2017 7:18 AM   Subscribe

I just received access to a sublet that I rented sight-unseen (dumb, I know) and it's in awful condition. I want to get out of it ASAP but I really don't know how. Usually, I think I would be referred to the lease but the truth is, I haven't seen it. While it was supposed to be attached to the sublease agreement I signed, it never was, so I don't know what 'breaking procedures' would be.

I agreed to a 6 month sublet in a new city before I saw the place, because I didn't want to hunt for one once I was there. It seemed like a nice property but when I received my keys and visited the place it was just gross. There were mice who were living there and overall the apartment was in much worse condition than I thought it was. I am really not willing to put up with this because I have lived in shitty apartments before and it was incredibly stressful. As a result, I haven't moved in yet because I don't know what to do. Is there any way I can get out of this sublet?

I know that usually leases specify what one would have to do or pay to break a lease. I signed a sublease agreement that bound me to the lease and said the lease was attached but the lease was not attached, and thus I have no idea what it says. Again, I know this was dumb. I also do not have the landlord's contact information, only the info guy who I am subletting from and the realtor affiliated with the landlord's management company.

Has anyone been in a similar situation? I really don't want to pay for the full 6 months, or even one month if I'm not staying there, but I get that paying some fees is probably unavoidable. At the moment, no one is being responsive to me about what to do.

Is there any way I'd be justified in getting out of this sublease, or is trying to find a new subtenant and paying some rent the best way to go?
posted by hejrat to Law & Government (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Ugh, this sucks, I'm sorry.

Is the place in such disrepair that it seems genuinely unsafe? Are vermin such a problem that it seems unhealthy to stay there?

If so, I would think about visiting your new city's housing office.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 7:32 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have not moved in yet, I feel like you might only be responsible for the deposit? The type of person who is subletting a vermin-infested apartment probably does not have the wherewithal to go after you in court. I would document the mice and any other conditions that make the apartment uninhabitable, and let the person you subletted from know you are not going to be moving in ASAP. If they do try to go after you in small claims for rent, you probably have a reasonable argument that it was uninhabitable (depending how bad the mice/other problems are).

But, key is to do this right away -- the longer you hang on to those keys, I think the more you will be considered a tenant. At least in my jurisdiction, there's a 3-day period at the start of a lease when you can refuse the place and just lose your deposit, but if you delay on this for a month or something, you're going to owe money since you have the keys.
posted by rainbowbrite at 7:35 AM on February 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

You probably can't get out of the lease, but you should consider whether the person subletting to you has the wherewithal to come after you in court or take other enforcement measures. He probably doesn't. The landlord will generally look to him for the rent, not you.
posted by praemunire at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Contact the landlord directly and ask if the landlord was aware of the condition of the unit and that you were subletting it.
posted by erst at 8:01 AM on February 6, 2017

I do know that the landlord was aware that I was subletting the place, as they signed off on it (although they also signed off that I had a copy of the lease as well and I did not so who knows how much attention they were paying).

I feel really uncomfortable putting the sublessor in such a bad position but I also feel a bit deceived about the living conditions of the apartment? I don't know that he couldn't sue though.

The vermin problem will definitely only get worse; the apartment wasn't inhabited for a few weeks (but the guy did leave out open food etc. which probably contributed to rodent activity). The place has a ton of gaps where mice could squeeze in, some parts of the floor in the closet aren't even covered and it's so much that I don't have the ability to seal it all off.
posted by hejrat at 8:06 AM on February 6, 2017

The guy left out open food in an uninhabited apartment he then leased to you and you're worried about screwing him over???
posted by praemunire at 8:23 AM on February 6, 2017 [29 favorites]

This sounds like a fly-by-night operation and I strongly doubt you are the first person they've tricked into renting this shithole. It sounds like you haven't put any money down yet? If that's the case, I would just cut and run. This isn't a case of you just up and deciding you don't want to live there for no reason, this place is uninhabitable and as you realize, it's only going to get worse. Even if you have put a deposit down, see if you can put a stop payment on the payment or do a chargeback with your credit card company. You're being scammed and protecting yourself (rather than the landlord or lessee) is the right thing to do here.
posted by tatiana wishbone at 8:51 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

I feel really uncomfortable putting the sublessor in such a bad position

He knew what he was doing. Don't feel bad about this. At all.

Be diplomatic but firm, and use whatever legal protections you have (you almost certainly have some) to your advantage. You know you made a mistake in the way you signed the lease - but people do dumb stuff about apartment-hunting every day, and sometimes they get lucky and sometimes they don't. Don't waste time beating yourself up, just focus on fixing the situation.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:52 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

And don't try to find a new subtenant - that sounds like an awesome way to make a problem that wasn't your fault, your fault.

The first step would be to figure out whether the apartment meets/fails habitability guidelines for your jurisdiction, and then go about things from there.
posted by R a c h e l at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Run, do not walk, from this hellhole --- but before you hand back those keys, spend a few minutes photographing and videoing the place, preferably with date stamps.
posted by easily confused at 8:59 AM on February 6, 2017 [9 favorites]

it sounds like you were scammed. the sublessor know what he was doing. take photos and video in good light with date stamps, write a letter to the sublessor and landlord describing what happened and that you are not moving in and the apartment is uninhabitable. send the letter certified mail with a return receipt.

also mail the landlord the keys (certified). explain in the letter to the landlord that you were never given a copy of the original lease, and in any case, the apartment is not fit for habitation, so you cannot live there. in the letter, remind the landlord that if he or she will not release you from the lease at this point with no penalties to you and return your full deposit, you will follow all appropriate channels to report the condition of the apartment to local authorities who are in charge of building code / enforcing the housing law.

i don't know what those agencies are in your city but if you update with a location i'll help you find them. usually in most bigger cities there are landlord-tenant handbooks published by the government and sometimes even tenant help hotlines run by agencies or by nonprofits. these would be good places to turn to for advice before you write your letters and return keys. but whatever you do, don't pay rent and don't move in. if you want to not ask for the deposit back fine, just don't move in.
posted by zdravo at 9:51 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Document, pictures, send a certified letter stating you did NOT receive a copy of the lease + cite the local Warrant of Habitabilty clause for whatever jurisdiction you are in (this will be under landlord tenant rental laws on the local .gov website...) Tell them in this letter the apartment is NOT habitable and demand *professionally* that they return your rent and deposit monies by X date. State you are returning the keys. Send this to both the landlord and the tenant. DO NOT MOVE IN + RETURN THE KEYS IN AN OFFICIAL DOCUMENTABLE WAY.

Find a new place to live.

Take them to small claims court, and/or threaten such in a second demand letter if your money is not returned by the date you specified. BONUS POINTS IF THE ORIGINAL AND FOLLW UP LETTERS ARE ON ATTORNEY LETTERHEAD (maybe you have a lawyer friend who knows someone in this jurisdiction?)

Do not fuck around. Go scorched earth professional and get your money back.
posted by jbenben at 9:59 AM on February 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm sure there may be exceptions, but rodent infestation in itself is not sufficient to make an apartment uninhabitable by most codes/violate the warranty of habitability (e.g., in NY it has to be "severe" and, as a practical matter, likely would need to go unremedied after complaints). I'm all for OP not paying and not moving in, but OP's legal situation is actually not at all clear-cut.

P.S. Don't ask your lawyer friends for free representation (yes, that is what asking them to use their letterhead is), or to ask their friends for free representation.
posted by praemunire at 12:07 PM on February 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

Re: praemunire's comment

- The point of citing warrant of habitability is to let them know you know the law and are serious. It's for a judge to decide habitability if they really want to play this game with you. Let them know immediately with the right documentation and response that you will not be easy to take advantage of.

- It's OK to pay to have the letter written, especially if we're talking about any amount of money above the threshold you are willing to write off. The idea is to get them to give you part or all of your money back WITHOUT going to court. Give them the idea this situation will not be worth it on their end. Legal services for tenants will also write this kind of letter for you. It may be enough that you send these letters on your own making sure that they are certified. YMMV whether you pick a lawyer out of the phone book or ask for recommendations from your friends. If you are starting a new job, they might also recommend a lawyer for this type of hassle. This is not rocket science or even exceptionally unheard of, there's no problem, generally, with accessing your network if you want or need legal representation. Folks are happy to quote you a fee for the service, too, and I was not trying to give the impression such a thing was free. Doing nothing before assessing the costs would be foolish since you do have options. Why just accept this shitty situation as unfixable?
posted by jbenben at 2:37 PM on February 6, 2017

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