Can we be forced to pay 2 extra months of rent and a reletting fee plus rental :concessions”, if we break our lease?

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Can we be forced to pay 2 extra months of rent and a reletting fee plus rental :concessions”, if we break our lease?

We need to break our original lease because we have taken in my terminally ill mother-in-law and her dog and we need more room (we have a 1 bedroom high-rise apartment). Our contract says we have to give 60 days notice and pay a reletting fee ($1730), plus back-paying the rent concession ($357 per month) we got for signing a year lease, either that or we are liable for the entire years rent (6 x 1678). Are there any tenant protection laws that will help us reduce over $5K of fees? I have been assured that our apartment will “fly” and will be rentable immediately.

Asked on May 19, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Texas

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

A lease is a contractual relationship; it can include early termination fees (such as a reletting fee; or return of any concessions)) so long as those were agreed to by the parties (the landlord and tenant) in the lease and not imposed after the fact by the landlord. From what you write, these appear to be legal fees.

Note that in the absence of any specific early termination fee, the landlord could hold you liable for rent for the balance of your lease term. The landlord does have an obligation to make reasonable efforts to relet the apartment in this event (where you are responsible for the balance of the rent, rather than paying a specific early termination fee), and if the landlord does, once the apartment rents for the same or more money than you were paying, you would not be responsible for rent past that point. But the landlord's only responsibility is to make reasonable efforts to re-rent; if the apartment does not rent, you will pay for the full remaining term of the lease agreement. Thus, if don't pay the fees and instead opt to be responsible for the remaining balance of the rental agreement, your run the risk of having to pay (if the apartment doesn't quickly rent) $1,678 per month for 6 months.

The landlord does not need to care about your ill mother--that does not provide any grounds to terminate the lease.

If your lease does not bar subletting or assignment, one option would be to find someone to rent from you (sublet), or else someone to take the lease over from you (assignment). In regards to sublet, you could also try to rent for less than your current rent--while that would leave you responsible for the excess, that might be a better option than you otherwise face. For example, at $1,200/month, if you could sublet it, you'd be on the hook for 6 months x $478, or a bit under $3k...and if you marketed the apartment for less than the market rate, you might find a renter quickly.


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