Renting and the law: Couple split up after signing lease. Now what?

  • Article by: KELLY KLEIN
  • Updated: December 21, 2013 - 2:00 PM

Q: I moved into a rental property, a townhouse, with my girlfriend at the end of June, and we both signed a one-year lease. Living together didn’t work out, and we have since vacated the property, after giving notice to the property management. I was out before the end of October, and she was out within the first couple of days in November.

We did not meet the lease buyout criteria, which consisted of terminating after more than eight months of the lease, and either moving 50 miles or more because of a job or buying a house. The management said our only option is to keep paying rent until they rent out the property.

I have already paid my half of the November and December rent. Someone advised me to just stop paying rent. They said the property manager has no motivation to rent the unit while we are paying the rent each month. Is this a good option? Do I have any other options other than what the office has told me?

A: You and your ex-girlfriend signed a one-year lease, so the language in your lease needs to be followed. It’s great that your landlord offers a lease buyout in the agreement, but since you didn’t meet the criteria, I understand that isn’t an option for you and your ex-girlfriend.

Most leases require that the named tenant or tenants are responsible for the rent, regardless of whether they are living there. You should review the language in your lease to make sure both you and your ex-girlfriend are named in the lease. If you both are named, then you both are jointly and severally liable for the rent, which means that you are each individually responsible to pay all the rent, whether the other person pays or not. For example, if the rent is $1,500, and you refuse to pay anything, then your ex-girlfriend is legally responsible to cover the entire amount of rent due, including her share. If you decide not to pay your share of the rent, then your ex-girlfriend is legally responsible. You should know that the tenant who doesn’t pay their share of the rent may be taken to court by the tenant who is covering their rent.

The person who advised you to stop paying rent didn’t give you good advice. Landlords and property managers always have motivation to rent because they need to find good tenants to occupy their rental property, so the rent is covered beyond your one-year lease terms.

Also, if you stop paying rent, the property manager or owner of the building can sue you, which will make it more difficult for you to rent in the future. Once the manager finds someone to rent the townhouse, you and your ex-girlfriend are not liable for the rent anymore, since the manager cannot double collect rent from you and the new tenants.

There are some options. You can try to negotiate another arrangement with the manager, since you didn’t meet the buyout terms. You should meet with the manager and discuss you and your ex-girlfriend finding someone to sublet your apartment until your lease ends next June. The property manager is looking for renters, but if you and your ex-girlfriend advertise to sublet, you might find someone more quickly. You could find a sublessee to rent at a lower price, and then make up the difference. The property manager would need to agree to this arrangement, so make sure to get the agreement in writing. Also, since there is a buyout clause in your lease if you live there more than eight months, you should request to pay the buyout amount after January, since that’s when your eight months is up. Even though you may not be moving more than 50 miles away for a job or buying a house, the property manager may let you take advantage of their buyout clause in January 2014.

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 kklein@kleinpa.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.

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