Can we refuse to honor a signed lease?

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Can we refuse to honor a signed lease?

We have a signed lease for a new tenant to move in on the 1st of next month. Yesterday we discovered one of the names on the lease has been arrested on drug charges. Obviously we don’t want them moving in. Can we refuse to honor the lease given the change in status? We have not yet received any money for deposit or rent, which is a month-to-month lease.

Asked on October 6, 2011 under Real Estate Law, Wisconsin

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

The bad news is that finding that a tenant has been arrested on drug charges or uses drugs is not grounds to not honor the lease...not unless the lease itself provided that drug use would be a ground for termination of the tenancy.

If under the lease, the tenants were to have already paid the rent or deposit, then their failure to do so might be a material breach of the lease that would entitle you to terminate (they did not honor their obligations, so now you do not need to honor yours). But if payment was not required yet, then it does not matter that they did not pay.

If it's a month-to-month lease, you *should* be able to give them 30 days notice you are terminating the tenancy (that's the definition of a month-to-month lease), though you should check the lease's language to be sure.


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