Help us script lease break communication with old and new landlords
October 26, 2021 4:49 AM   Subscribe

We need to break our lease urgently and we’re not sure how to both communicate this to our landlord, keeping them as a reference for the new rental applications we’re making, and also minimize the negative impact being lease-breakers will have on those new applications with new landlords, for new places. Please help us with a script to navigate this tricky balancing act. COVID accommodation snowstorm inside.

Other AskMe’s
We have read all the other lease break questions but this is a little different. We’re not worried about our legal rights, or paying double, or losing our deposit. We are very, very worried about being in an unsafe situation in a pandemic, and how we can minimise the impact of breaking our lease on our ability to find new accommodation.

Why we need to move
Our city, in Australia, up until now almost COVID-free, is opening up to visitors from areas that are overrun with COVID in four weeks time.
Our current apartment will not be safe for us because of COVID risk factors. There is no tenable option to modify the apartment to mitigate our risk.
There is nothing legally wrong with the apartment, and we have no legal recourse to get the issues fixed. Even if we did, time is of the essence, and we need to break the lease right now in order to find a new place and move before COVID becomes endemic in our city.
This is an actual nightmare for us. One of us is officially immune compromised, the other has serious underlying health problems. We are x 2 vaccinated and one person is able to get a booster next week, the other is eligible in January. This is great, but we are still in a position where we essentially need to shield, regardless of vaccination status.
For health reasons we cannot risk being exposed and absolutely have to get out of here to somewhere safe, as soon as possible.

The landlord
We have a cordial relationship with the landlord but we are also concerned they are going to take this personally. Cordial does not equal our friends or reasonable in this situation. It’s a private lease, not managed through a rental company.
We don’t want to say that we need to move for health reasons. We wouldn’t be surprised if they have a somewhat cavalier attitude to public health. We could be wrong, but are not keen to test it.

The market and new landlords
The rental market where we are is insanely competitive.
It is 100 per cent standard for the new landlord, through a property manager, to insist on three references, including one from the current landlord. It is also 100 per cent certain they will all be contacted and interrogated.
We are so worried that we will be at a double disadvantage in this market: flagged as lease-breakers and also as ‘difficult’ somehow if we disclose our health status. With 20 applications to choose between, I can absolutely see a property manager reviewing our application skipping over us for someone with no “issues”.

We’ve never broken a lease before and have been in this property for about three years, never missing a rent payment, and keeping the property in far nicer and cleaner condition than it was when we moved in.
We can afford some overlap and the lease-break fee and advertising costs that are the lease-break penalties where we are, and won’t contest them.
Once we find somewhere and are accepted as tenants, and sign a lease, we can facilitate quick move-out and clean up that will hopefully make the current property look great to show.
We’re happy to show the property before we leave and to help the landlord with that, and with anything else that will make the transition easier for them.
We also were planning to move when our lease expired in February next year, and those reasons still hold. One of us is working incredibly long hours and needs to be within walking distance of their office. And from next year we expect to both work from home and need extra space. I think it might be safest to say that rather than get into COVID. But how to explain why it has to happen right now?

We need a script to communicate with old landlord and new prospective landlords.
We are both super stressed about this and really struggling to come up with that script.
We know we don’t *have* to tell anyone anything, but humans are human, and a reasonable low-conflict explanation to old and new landlords is going to get us a lot further in this situation than a stonewall ‘circumstances have changed’.
How do we best word giving notice to our current landlord, and how do we frame having broken a lease to a new potential landlord on our applications?
posted by t0astie to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Yeah, seconding just think about the cost difference between paying December and January rent (I assume you're not going to be able to move out in a week, so you'll pay November regardless) and the lease-break fees. If you can swing it, you can just tell the landlord that you're moving out early, you'll finish out the lease, but you're happy to sublet starting whenever your actual move-out is. (I dunno anything about Australian tenant law, but in most places in the US, if the landlord can find a tenant to replace you, they can't charge you for the overlap.) This ends up being more an opportunity than a disappointment for your landlord, especially in a hot rental market.
posted by restless_nomad at 6:23 AM on October 26, 2021

If you think you'll be discriminated against, you could also not mention health or covid at all, to either landlord.

"Person A has been approved for full-time work-from-home beginning in January 2022, so we'd like to move somewhere bigger as soon as we can."

If you think local landlords will respect greed and ambition more than disability, make it sound like one or both of you has increased job responsibilities and wants a better home office space.
posted by All Might Be Well at 6:26 AM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: If you are able to take the hit of 3 of months of double rent, why not phrase this as giving your landlord very early notice that you won't be renewing the lease? If you want to really get in their good graces, you could offer to let them have access to the apartment when you move out early to do renovations/showings/etc, so that this ends up being a net positive for them.

I think simpler is better for the reason for the move. Maybe that your partner has a new job with long hours, and you need to be closer to their job. I don't think they'll question the timing of your move.
posted by litera scripta manet at 6:40 AM on October 26, 2021 [8 favorites]

Response by poster: I’ll try not to thread sit beyond this but we really need help with what to actually say, not suggestions to seek recourse or to pay three months of double rent. “Overlap” here is a couple of weeks or a month.
posted by t0astie at 6:47 AM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: Tell both landlords that you love the new place that you're applying for so much you're jumping on it even though your current lease is not up.

But seriously, unless he's like a personal friend or something your landlord is likely going to be much more interested in the money/practical aspect of this than any particular phrasing.
posted by mskyle at 7:06 AM on October 26, 2021 [4 favorites]

Then definitely look into the subletting rules on your current lease. Hot market = someone else can pay those months of rent, assuming it's legal. If there's a local tenant's rights organization, that might be a good thing to look into. Tenancy law is often hyper-local so your options are probably going to be very specific.
posted by restless_nomad at 7:10 AM on October 26, 2021

(And to make that a little more specific to your question, the best script to take to your landlord to keep them happy with you is to present them with a solution that doesn't cost them any money. The better-educated you can be about your options there, the easier it's going to be for your landlord to smile and wave as you drive off.)
posted by restless_nomad at 7:26 AM on October 26, 2021

Best answer: Given that you're not worried about paying double, I would talk to the landlord like this:

Hi Landlord,

We are giving notice on our lease for February. We are actually planning to move as of [date] because of commuting issues. We would like to work with you to be sure that you don't lose any income, so we would like to offer to help you find a new tenant by [x things, showings any time, staging our apartment and putting our things in storage/moving them] and will pay our rent until you find one, hopefully within a month.

It's all about the loss of income for a landlord, plus timing of work - like right now, if your apartment needed painting/carpet etc. and you were here in Toronto, getting workmen and carpet is something that needs planning in advance due to labour shortage and supply chain issues. So mitigating that impact will be a thing if your apartment needs a refresh prior to a new tenant moving in.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:45 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

If it's a "hot market," why do you think your landlord is going to be very angry? warriorqueen is right that it might be a little difficult to do a refresh at this exact moment, but frankly a lot of landlords barely bother (don't know what the rules are in your jurisdiction, though). It won't be much of a loss of income if every vacancy has a zillion would-be tenants. In fact, again unless there is some applicable rent regulation, this is effectively an opportunity for the landlord to raise the rent early.

Just be super-businesslike about it, as if it were perfectly standard (as it is). Early notification, clear move-out date, reassurance that you will make the apartment available for showings, ask what else needs to be done in the process.
posted by praemunire at 8:21 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Your landlord doesn't care why you're leaving, if they're not friends or family. There's no reason to disclose your (valid!) health concerns to them since there's no legal accommodation you're asking for. If they press, "we need to move closer to X's work" is a completely valid response. Maybe you want to do it now before the cold and dark set in and make late-night commutes really miserable, or before a busy period at work, or before holiday festivities set in - there are a ton of perfectly good reasons to do it now instead of February that don't involved health disclosures you don't want to make.

Just let them know you're moving out and when, and that you'll pay out the rest of the lease (or a lease-breaking fee, whatever's in your lease) if needed but you'd ideally prefer they find a new tenant sooner, and here's XYZ you're available to do to help make that happen.

For the new apartment, you will absolutely not be the first person they've ever had whose most recent landlord contact is a little miffed that they're leaving early. Assuming your other references aren't also going to say that you skipped out on your last three leases or trashed your apartments or whatever, I think you're probably fine here. Again, changing job responsibilities and a desire to get settled in your new place so you're not moving in the dead of winter are are perfectly reasonable and understandable.

Good luck with all of this! It sounds really stressful and I'm sorry you have to juggle these concerns on top of the regular stresses of moving. I hope you'll be settled in somewhere safer and roomier soon.
posted by Stacey at 10:27 AM on October 26, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would wait until you find a place you want, and then use mskyle's script to give your current landlord a heads up as soon as you put in the application.

In NSW lease break fines are now defined by law, so apart than the hassle factor of finding someone new, there's nothing really to grumble about so long as you act professionally. Highlight that you will of course pay all legally required fees. Giving a warning is better than the reference enquiry coming out of the blue.

Just make some excuse about the new apartment suiting you better, or that you want to move before the borders open as finding a new place will then get even harder. Good luck! Moving is hell.
posted by kjs4 at 6:30 PM on October 26, 2021

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