If my landlord does not have a signed copy of our contract, can he charge me rent or hold me to the year-lease if I move out?

My landlord has failed to uphold his “informal” agreements in maintaining the unit. When I moved in the shower was leaking, the spicket outside was leaking, and it took me 3 weeks for him to clean out the garage from the previous tenant. He rarely returns calls, if so, it takes him a month. I have the original contract but I know he does not have a copy of this (he has dropped the ball consistently). Can I move out without penalty? What would happen if I gave him a 30-day notice?

Asked on November 3, 2011 under Real Estate Law, New Mexico


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

No, the fact that the landlord does not have a copy of the written lease does not mean that he cannot enforce it, and it does not mean that you can move out without penalty or avoid paying rent. The written lease is not magic; it evidences the terms of the lease, but the lose of one written copy does not automatically invalidate the agreement between you and him.  If you try to violate the terms in some way, the landlord could sue you and could seek to prove the existence and terms of the written lease in other ways--maybe with emails or letters referencing the terms; or by using the mechanisms of

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