LaBre: Technicalities may release tenant from rental agreementPublished 4:50pm Thursday, November 15, 2012
LaBre on Law
By Robert W. Labre, J.D.
“I want out of my lease,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“I just got accepted to a university located a few hundred miles away, and I need to move out right now in order to start next semester there. The traveling is too far for me to stay where I’m at, especially given gas prices.”
“Haven’t you tried to get a subtenant?” I asked.
“No way,” he said. “Been there and done that. I don’t want to remain liable on the lease if the subtenant defaults on rent. I don’t really know anybody here that I can trust.”
“Have you asked the landlord if you can get out early?” I asked.
“Sure did,” he said. “I even drove to his home, knocked on his door, gave him a bag of cookies to butter him up and told him how my bright future awaited me at the university – how continued imposition of the lease would hinder my dreams.”
“And?” I urged him to continue.
“He just laughed at me and said one word: ‘Denied,’” he responded. “Then he went back inside his home, closing the door behind him.”
“Subtle,” I said.
“Tell me,” he replied. “He even took my bag of cookies with him! They were soft cookies with extra Macadamia nuts! What a jerk!”
“Well, there’s nothing wrong with presenting your case,” I said, smiling. “What about an assignment? Do you think your landlord would be open to assigning the lease to someone else?”
“What’s an assignment?” he inquired.
“It’s an agreement where you find someone who your landlord is willing to allow to step into your shoes.” I said. “In essence, you’re cut out of the lease and someone else is replaced in your stead. If established, you don’t have to worry about whether that person pays rent or not.”
“I’m not optimistic,” he said. “Do you sell anything else?”
“Maybe, but I need to see your lease agreement first,” I said.
“Here you go,” he replied, passing me the documents.
I read through the lease. It was obviously not drafted by an attorney. It was one of those “do-it-yourself” leases anyone can find on the internet, print off and sign.
“Well, I’ve got a possibility for you,” I said.
“I’m listening,” he replied.
“First, you have a valid lease here,” I said. “The terms contain both your names, both of you signed the lease, it contains an adequate description of the property, the length of the lease term and the amount of rent.”
“OK,” he said. “And?”
“But this lease violates Michigan’s Truth in Renting Act,” I said.
“How?” he asked.
“It lacks the required notice to tenants that they should seek legal assistance if they have any questions about the interpretation or legality of the agreement,” I said. “In addition, it contains a term stating that your landlord has no duty to mitigate damages if you move out before the lease ends. That’s prohibited.”
“So does a violation of the Truth in Renting Act void the lease?” he asked.
“Potentially, but it’s a long shot,” I said.
“Because we have to send your landlord a letter telling him of these problems and give him 20 days to correct them before an action can be filed in court to terminate the lease,” I replied.
“So my landlord can correct these problems?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “All he needs to do is mail you a letter reciting the required notice
provisions along with a statement voiding the prohibited term. The hope is that he ignores the letter completely or responds incorrectly.”
“And if we don’t send him the letter?” he asked.
“Then I can’t file the action,” I replied. “Sending the letter is a prerequisite to the case.”
Leaning forward, I spoke frankly, “If you want to send the letter to start the process for litigation, that’s fine. It’ll cost you money though, and, to be direct, there’s no guarantee that a judge or jury will decide to void the lease, if we even get that far.”
“I have a right to a jury?” he asked.
“In this case, yes.” I said. “My recommendation, however, is that you first try to find someone who your landlord will likely assign the lease to. It’s the safest, cheapest and quickest option you’ve got.”
“Instead of bringing your landlord cookies as persuasion, get a credit report on the tenant you want to replace you.” I said.
“That way, the landlord has evidence that the new guy is reliable. Absent that, your realistic option is a subtenant.”
“If you do decide to get a subtenant,” I went on, “then you need to come see me again so that I can draft the sublease. Don’t just pull some document off the Internet and sign it – that’s a sure way to get into legal trouble.”