Tenant Troubles: If I Need To Break My Lease, Am I Responsible For Finding A New Tenant?

I had a chaotic experience the first time moving into an apartment. We were first told by the onsite manager that we got the apartment, only to be told (after paying $120 application fee) that we might not pass since most of us are international students and we have no credit.

The property management told us the only way to rent to us was for us to find a guarantor, and on top of that he /she needs to be a home owner. After pulling all connections we found someone who would do that for us. When we signed the agreement we were told initially that if we want to move out prior to the end of the lease, we would need to tell them and then they, with our co-operation would try to find another tenant. Should a new tenant pass the application process then it would be ok to move. Now we are trying to relocate since my mother’s health is failing and she needs to move in with me.

Yesterday I called them to tell them we had to move. They told us that to help them advertise, it would cost us $895. I also received this email today:

Hi,

You are allowed to find someone that is interested on your own. A friend or acquaintance. If they like the property they can call me and then submit an application and go through the acceptance process.

If they qualify we can move forward.

You may not advertise the property for rental.

I don’t understand. How am I suppose to find someone to move into my place if I cannot post anything saying I need to find someone to rent it? We were also forced to buy renter’s insurance for our property as condition of rent. Is this what renting are like in America?

Tenant Troubles Archives

Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com. Here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

This is a typical scam used by lazy landlords to guarantee their income without doing a lick of work. While the landlord may want you to think he owns you, he doesn’t. You can move whenever you want to, but you may be liable for damages to the landlord for breaching your lease.

These situations happen all the time. Tenants have to break their leases to deal with emergencies, job changes or simply because the unit wasn’t what it was cracked up to be.

When you choose to move and to technically breach your lease, the landlord has the duty to mitigate (lessen) his damages.

What are a landlord’s potential damages? If you signed a year lease and you want to move after six months, the landlord has an expectation that he would receive the same rent as you pay for the next six months. These are called “expectation damages.” He must mitigate those damages by renting the unit for the same amount as you were paying, not more. If the landlord can only rent the place for $100.00 less than you paid, he would incur $600.00 in expectation damages and you would be liable for those damages. The landlord might also incur costs to re-rent the unit. You mention a potential cost–advertising. Other costs can include reasonable payment to a rental agent or expenses incurred in re-keying a unit, etc. You may be liable for those costs, if the landlord can prove he spent the dough.

You are not responsible to find another tenant. Period. That’s the landlord’s job! If he doesn’t try to find another tenant he is not mitigating his damages.

You should simply give your thirty-day notice (in writing) and move. Please don’t call them any more. Make them commit their idiotic assumptions in writing.

If the landlord tries to sue you for damages, the email you provided will serve as excellent evidence that the landlord was shirking his duty. Remember, the landlord has to prove that he incurred his claimed damages. Since when does a craigslist ad cost $895?

Yes, this is what renting is like in America. Like our health care system (37th in the world according to the WHO); our infant mortality rate (51st in the world according to the CIA); our incarceration rate (first in the world according to the International Centre for Prison Studies); renters fare about as well as they do in most other third-world banana republics where tenants have few rights and El Jefe runs the show.

In Germany–health care system (25th in the world according to the WHO); infant mortality rate (15th in the world according to the CIA); incarceration rate (166th in the world according to the International Centre for Prison Studies)–renters comprise 57% of the population. Renters enjoy some of the cheapest rents in the industrialized world and they have some of the strongest legal protections, including no summary procedure (get ‘em out quick) for evictions and state provided defense attorneys. Additionally, landlords do not enjoy the same tax breaks as they do in the United States. I use Germany as an example because my German business partner and I frequently compare our two countries and because I ran across this insightful article, Most Germans don’t buy their homes, they rent. Here’s why, by Matt Philips.

What’s my point? It comes as no surprise that the lords of your living space, who frequently receive over 30% of your income, don’t give a shit about the few rights you may have. They Don’t Call ‘Em Landlords for Nothing.

About Dave Crow

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

  • cedichou

    Actually, if you read the article you link to about Germany carefully, you would see that the ownership rate is 43% (or conversely, renters are 57% of the population).

    Also, from the article, it seems that the high renters rate is due to a housing stock destroyed during the war and terrible lending conditions after the war that made renting obligatory. (I’m adding: most likely, the banning of ownership in the East German republic until 1989 probably helped boost renter’s habits and increase the ratio of renters there as well). But renter’s share of the population is decreasing very steadily since the 1960s and the trend is obvious: home ownership is on the rise.

    The article provides interesting explanation, in a comparison with the UK (emphasis mine):

    “Britain also imposed stringent RENT and construction cost CAPS on developers of public housing… housing quality suffered…. Germany also LOOSENED REGULATION OF RENTAL CAPS sooner than many other countries,according to economist Michael Voightländer…By contrast in the UK, harsher regulation on rented housing stretched well into the 1980s, pushing landlords to cut back on maintenance and driving the quality of housing down still further.”

    Now, it looks like Germany offers more protection than the UK, but still the rent caps are not that stringent: rent increases are capped at 15% over 3 years. For comparison, in SF the rent increase is capped much lower. Over the last 30 years, the only years where the increase could have been higher than 15% was 1982-1984. It’s usually way below that. Averaging over the last 12 years, it has been capped at 1.28%/year (way below the inflation of 2.21% on average over the same period).

    And, regarding your line about people spending too much of their income on housing in the US, the article shows that German people pay A LARGER fraction of their income on housing than the US (I guess homeownership at least cuts the middleman out of the transaction between a person and his living place).

  • cedichou

    Ah, Germany… http://www.theatlanticcities.com/housing/2013/11/has-germany-figured-out-way-keep-rents-affordable/7639

    “For Germany’s major cities, current rules haven’t stopped rent levels reaching ever higher spikes. In Munich, Hamburg, and Berlin, rents have been skyrocketing (by German standards), with landlords both increasing rents on existing contracts by the legal maximum and using breaks between contracts to hike their charges unfettered. Since 2007, Berlin rents have risen by 35 percent, markedly higher than the German national average rise of 15 percent. The result has been A STRING OF EVICTIONS of longstanding residents from their communities, and many people are seeing the range of apartments in their price range shrinking.”

    So far, yet so close.

  • Tim Bracken

    I agree with the analysis here. The landlord has a duty to mitigate (i.e. act in a reasonably-diligent way to line up a replacement tenant), and in this low-vacancy housing market, it would be laughable for the landlord to claim she couldn’t find another tenant. But it might take a month. Maybe even two if an applicant flakes out. And, unless the tenant could prove in litigation that the landlord had not acted reasonably to find a new tenant (which would be expensive, time consuming and emotionally draining to go through), the tenant would be on the hook for the rent during that time.

    Since the tenant has a large financial incentive to line up a new tenant to move in the day he moves out, and since the landlord has no similar incentive to hustle, it’s wise for the tenant to find a good replacement tenant who will pass the credit check, sign a lease, pay a deposit, and follow through with the plan to move in.