Q: My landlord charged my ex-girlfriend a fee to be removed from our lease early, with five months remaining. Before she moved out, we were each paying $850 per month for our apartment. Now my landlord wants me to pay the full $1,700. If my ex-girlfriend paid $2,400 to break a lease that we both signed, and it’s the only lease I signed, why am I now expected to pay the full rent? My landlord is also threatening to evict me because my water bill fell two months behind. My landlord has told me that my ex-girlfriend’s early-termination fee has nothing to do with me.
A: The early-termination or break-lease fee your ex-girlfriend paid is a provision most landlords offer their tenants in case tenants want to end their lease early. You are offered the same provision. However, if you remain in the apartment, as you’ve done, then you are liable for the entire amount of rent owed each month. It is common for all adult tenants renting the same apartment to sign the same lease, as you and your ex-girlfriend did. When she paid a fee to terminate early, she did not buy out your lease. All she did was pay a fee to terminate her lease early.
You do have some options. You should contact your landlord right away and discuss your situation. Let your landlord know that your ex-girlfriend leaving early has affected your ability to cover the bills, but that you plan on paying the water bill as soon as you can. You should also let your landlord know that you are looking for a roommate to assist with rent, or that you can afford to cover the entire rent on your own. Most landlords allow their tenants to get replacement roommates when another roommate terminates the lease early.
If you cannot find a roommate and cannot afford the monthly rent on your own, then you should give your notice to terminate the lease early. Try to work out a deal with your landlord to pay a lesser amount to break the lease early or work out a payment plan. Whatever you decide to do, remember to get any agreement in writing and signed by both parties. Most landlords are reasonable and willing to work out an agreement with you.
Breaking a lease
Q: I am in a situation, 10 months before the end of my lease, in which I have to break the lease and move out. I understand that I am liable for rent for the remainder of my lease term. The lease agreement has an early-termination clause that requires me to give two months’ notice, as well as pay 25 percent of the rental fee for the remainder of the lease term. This payment will amount to several thousand dollars, but I agreed to it, so I intend to pay it. My question is, if the apartment manager rents out the apartment one month after I vacate, would I be entitled to at least a partial refund of this early-termination fee?
A: In Minnesota, many landlords offer an early-termination clause in their leases allowing tenants to pay some amount in order to terminate the lease early. In your case, your landlord has a break-lease clause allowing for early termination of your lease under which you are required to pay 25 percent of your rent for 10 months, which is the remainder left on your lease. These early-termination clauses are legal, and they protect tenants who need to end their lease early for whatever reason, and landlords who want some compensation for the tenant terminating the lease earlier than planned. Even if your apartment manager rents out your apartment one month after you vacate, you are not entitled to a partial refund after you pay your early-termination fee. An early-termination fee is the amount you agree to pay in exchange for no longer owing the remainder of the rent on your lease.
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, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.