Q: I have rented from the same landlord for 10 years. Once the first year’s lease expired, I continued to live there on a month-to-month basis.
In early September, I found a new apartment. The property owner of the new apartment said he’d hold it for me until late November, pending my ability to terminate my current lease. I sent an e-mail to my current landlord requesting clarification on the original lease clause, since they frown on Dec. 1 move-outs. I told him I planned on paying for the entire month of November, but would be moving out before the end of the month. I then discussed the issue on the phone with the landlord and referenced the clause again. I asked if he was going to enforce the two-month rent-payment clause, and he told me he wasn’t going to enforce it because I had been a good tenant for 10 years. I told him I wouldn’t sign the lease at the new place if he was going to enforce the two-month rent payment, and he told me on the phone that I should feel comfortable in signing it.
On Sept. 10, I sent a Notice of Lease Termination in writing, effective Nov. 30.
The landlord did not notify me at that time that this date would not be honored, which I assume he would have had I misunderstood our conversation. The next week I signed my new lease effective Nov. 15.
I sent my landlord an e-mail describing a pamphlet I planned to design with photos and a description to help the owners market the property because they were not having success. Later that same day I received an e-mail notifying me that I would be responsible to pay rent in December and January. I immediately called the owner to discuss this surprising and upsetting turn of events. He re-stated the e-mail message that I was liable for two month’s rent. I did end up creating a brochure for the landlord and posted it on Craigslist. I believe that the showings he has had are a result of my help.
Needless to say, I have been completely taken by surprise about the two-month rental charge. I signed the new lease in good faith. What would you suggest I do?
A: First, it sounds like you gave your two-month notice on Sept. 10, stating that you intended to move out on Nov. 30. That would be two months’ notice, which seems more than sufficient. But, it also seems that your lease contains a clause prohibiting December terminations. Without seeing the lease, I can’t say whether or not it is enforceable in this case. If the clause prohibits terminations from Dec.1 to Jan. 31, then you are OK, since you terminated on Nov. 30.
In addition, the December cancellation was originally designed to protect properties from being vacant during cold weather, but has morphed into a clause that protects landlords from having to find renters in December and January, which can be difficult months to find tenants. Without seeing your lease, and based on what you have written, I think you have a strong argument that the lease was terminated effective Nov. 30, and that the Dec. 1 cancellation clause is not in effect.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.