What is a “reasonable” lease termination fee?

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What is a “reasonable” lease termination fee?

We are breaking a lease 3 months early. The lease has a clause stating that we are responsible for paying a “reasonable” fee in this event. We found tenants that will be moving in next month (no rental loss) andshowed the apartment with no assistance from the landlord or the realtor. The landlord wants to charge a 1/2 month rent as a fee stating that this is what she was charged by the realtor. Given the work we did obtaining the new tenants, we feel that this isn’t a reasonable fee. The landlord is unable/unwilling to provide rationale as to why she feels its reasonable. Can we legally dispute this?

Asked on January 18, 2012 under Real Estate Law, Massachusetts

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

There is no hard and fast guidance on this subject. Factors to consider in deciding whether  to pay are:

1) What is your rent? Paying 1/2 month rent is very different if you are paying $1500 per month vs. $500 per month. A court could easily find a $250 fee reasonable, while finding $750 per month excessive under the circumstances you describe.

2) The cost of litigation--if you don't pay, will the landlord sue you? (You know him  or her; what is your sense of how litiguous he or she is?) If the landlord sues you, are you willing and able to take the time out of your lives and work to try and represent yourself in court? If not, then you need to consider that hiring a lawyer to defend you will likely cost upwards of $500--possibly significantly upwards.


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