Q: I am a college student at St. Mary’s University in Winona. I live on campus. Last October, three other girls and I signed a lease to rent a home beginning June 1, 2015. The lease is for a five-bedroom house, and the owner let us sign with only four people, hoping we’d find an additional person by the move-in date.
Due to a series of unfortunate events, one of the girls is now unable to attend St. Mary’s, and we need to get out of the lease. The girl who is not returning contacted the owner in December to let him know we can’t lease his house. He told her that we all need to keep looking for a sublessee to replace her.
We have been unable to find anyone to sublease for her, and we also cannot find a fifth roommate.
In February, we sent the homeowner a notice saying that we will not be moving into the home on June 1, and that we won’t be able to rent the house from him. We told him to keep our security deposits and that he should continue to look for new tenants. We have also been actively on the hunt for renters to take over our lease.
His response to us is that we have to move in and there is absolutely no way to get out of the lease.
I don’t know what to do. What are my options?
A: You have several options, one of which you already tried. Contacting the homeowner early, as you did, and telling him to keep your security deposits in return for allowing you and your roommates out of the lease is usually the best option. However, this homeowner is keeping your deposits and holding you accountable for the terms of the lease. Sometimes there is an early-termination clause or buyout provision in the lease that allows tenants to pay two months’ rent to terminate their lease early, or terminate before move-in because of purchasing a home, having to move for work or some other reason. Even when there isn’t a buyout provision in the lease, many landlords still allow tenants to terminate the lease if a tenant provides a good reason and pays a couple of months’ rent in exchange.
It doesn’t sound like there is a buyout provision in your lease or that the owner in this situation is willing to work with you, so you do have another option. Most colleges, including St. Mary’s, have a legal department or someone in student affairs who can help students with these types of problems. At St. Mary’s, the vice president of student life at 1-507-457-1781 can assist you with your rental problem. Sometimes just hearing from an official at your college will persuade this owner to accept your security deposits as payment for terminating the lease and move on.
In Minnesota, owners or landlords don’t have a duty to mitigate damages, which means the owner can hold you and your roommates responsible for the monthly payments under the lease. However, courts frown upon owners or landlords not advertising their rental property or asserting a good-faith effort to find replacement tenants. Your best option at this point is to contact the legal department at your university because the owner will be encouraged to have a good relationship with the university. St. Mary’s and Winona State University are most likely where the owner gets all of his tenants, so he’ll want to have a good relationship with college officials.
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 email@example.com, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 425 Portland Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.