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I am not from the U.S. and this is my first experience breaking the lease. I had to break it to move for a new job, and no one would like to sublet the apartment since it is a damp basement. The situation is like the following:

  1. I offered to pay the amount exactly as agreed upon in lease.

  2. The leasing company claims that there are more damages to the apartment, but I previously had reported them to the maintenance staff a long time ago. Moreover, they are not damages I caused. Mold grew there because the apartment was damp as a basement unit.

My questions are:

  1. What can the leasing company do, and what should I do to be prepared?

  2. If the landlord uses a collection agency, how should I deal with the collector? Can it affect my credit and if so, on what time scale, and how can I appeal?

Thank you very much for your help!

  • You say you offered to pay the amount exactly as agreed upon in the lease. Can you please clarify this? If you do this, you haven't actually broken the lease. For example, the lease specifies $1000/month for 12 months. You leave after 6 months but pay out the remaining $6000. In that case, you haven't broken the lease. – ChrisInEdmonton Sep 10 '13 at 14:37
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    @chrisinedmonton he may be referring to having paid termination fees. My residential leases include an option to pay X months rent and give 30 days written notice to terminate the lease at tenant's leisure. – THEAO Sep 11 '13 at 12:06
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You have two issues. The damages due to your breaking of the lease and those related to the physical condition of the unit. Landlord Tenant Law for your state will cover the rules for both types of damages. The physical condition of the unit would have been an issue even if the lease had run to completion.

Get a hold of the rules for your state to make sure you understand what the landlord must do to re-rent the unit. What you are responsible for if they can't. Also find out what the landlord has to do regarding documenting the physical damages and the costs. If you want to dispute the damages you might have to go to small claims court or mediation depend on the rules of your state.

The landlord was also responsible for make sure the unit met a standard for habitability. Again the rules are set by the state. be prepared to document your requests for repairs. The law will set the types of repairs that must be made within a set time.

Before it gets to a collection agency you should exercise your rights to appeal.

  • I totally agree with mhoran and think it's important to emphasize documenting your requests and challenging anything long before it goes to collections. If you don't have emails or something in writing where you were bringing up the condition of the apartment, you may be stuck... I would also add that you should demand an itemized breakdown of charges because some states also have laws around landlords not charging excessive damages. – THEAO Sep 10 '13 at 6:52
  • If at all possible, you need to demonstrate that you were not responsible for the damage and reported the damage in a timely manner to the landlord. Pictures, emails etc. to document this will be very useful if you need to go to court. – JAGAnalyst Sep 10 '13 at 17:03
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You could argue that it was a "constructive eviction" -- i.e. conditions are so bad that it is as if they were evicting you.

One thing I am not clear on is, you said they said you didn't pay enough. Did anything come of that? Did they evict you? If they evicted you, you could argue that it was them breaking the lease.

The things you can expect fall into two parts:

  • Your claims against the landlord: The landlord will not return your deposit. If you think you are right, and have a right to the deposit back, you have to go to court to sue them for the deposit. Or, you can wait for if the landlord sues you (see below) and only in that case file a counterclaim.
  • The landlord's claims against you: The landlord will hold you liable for the rent from now until they find someone to rent it again, plus the damages. If the deposit is not enough to cover this, the landlord will send you a bill, and then they may 1) Sue you; or, 2) they may decide that it's not worth it to sue and send it to a collection agency and put a bad mark on your credit report.

If they put something on your credit report, you can dispute it and get it thrown out. If it goes to a collection agency, they may call you and harass you and threaten you. But you have a right under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act to have them stop calling you. Just remember to never agree to anything.

Or they could sue you. At the end of the day, the only real potential consequence is them (either the landlord or a collection agency) suing you. Short of suing you and winning, nothing they do can have any legal effect on you.

  • This would be a difficult argument to make as he has already openly admitted that the reason he's leaving has nothing to do with the quality of the apartment, but because he chose to take a new job elsewhere. – Mason Wheeler Oct 23 '15 at 18:23
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Please note that filing a suit in small claims court is very easy. You don't have to know legal process.

  1. Look up the small claims court in your county or nearest municipality, and find out what the limit is on small claims, and the process for filing a claim.
  2. Find out the laws in your state, county, and city covering rentals: deposits, leases, landlord and tenant rights & duties/responsibilities, and so on.
  3. Here's a sample from my state: if a landlord deliberately withholds deposit money that is due, and his tenant makes a good faith attempt to work out the situation out of court (such as by sending a registered letter explaining the situation, asking for the money, stating a short deadline for it to be paid, and indicating the next step of small claims court if not), then in small claims court the landlord can end up having to pay double what he withheld.
  4. Another sample from my state: in order for the landlord to hold you responsible for damage to the property, he must have a document signed in person by both you and him stating the condition of the unit. He cannot hold you responsible for damage that does not vary from a document signed by both of you indicating that the damage didn't exist.
  5. If the terms of the lease are that you must pay the rent until a new tenant is found, you probably can make the case that this liability only extends until when the current lease period would have ended, anyway. If that is soon, this limits your liability.
  6. If the unit is practically unrentable because of its condition, as another answer has already said you can pursue this being a "constructive eviction," meaning that it isn't you who breached the lease agreement by moving, it was the landlord who breached it by not providing a rental that meets the basic conditions required to meet the law. Whatever your personal conditions for leaving are irrelevant: if the unit did not meet the law, then the contract was broken on the landlord's side before you left. You should again look up the laws in your state and city for what conditions a unit must be in to be legal.
  7. You should strongly consider whether to pay the landlord what you owe him, on an ongoing basis until the lease expires or the unit is rented, then counter-sue him for what amounts to a reimbursement. Your case could rest on the unit being unfit for human occupation, thus it is not your having broken the lease that is making it unoccupied (and thus creating an economic loss which the landlord wants to pass on to you), but the fact that no humans want to be in the unit. It is likely that a landlord who has an empty unit that he wishes to hold a lease-breaker responsible for must, in the eyes of the law, take reasonable action to attempt to fill the unit. If he does not take this reasonable action, then he cannot hold you liable. Imagine if all a landlord had to do was wait for a person to break a lease, then not bother to get a new tenant for the rest of time. Obviously, the law should (and most likely does in your city and state) protect tenants from such an abuse. Therefore, if these laws exist, you can argue that his failure to make the unit attractive enough for someone to live in is a failure to take reasonable action to fill the unit, and your liability has ceased.
  8. You should also consider taking your own action to fill the unit. Advertise on cragislist or specific rental-finding sites that service your area. Get permission and access from the landlord to enter the unit, and remedy the issues yourself--even if only cosmetically or with a temporary fix. Keep track of your efforts and costs. Think: your cost of time and money to fill the unit has to be less than paying for it while it sits empty. Even if you washed the walls and painted them yourself, this likely would cost less than even one month's rent. This is not a pleasant situation to be in, and it's unfair (or so it seems as you have described it), but since the unit remaining empty continuously increases the risk you are exposed to, it behooves you to take whatever action you can to mitigate that risk, even as you at the same time pursue other avenues for resisting the landlord's claims on you. Additionally, taking these actions and showing that you could get the unit rented could be part of a valid and useful counter-claim on the landlord to reimburse you for both the costs of fixing up the unit as well as forcing him to quit his claim of unpaid lease on you (or making him return the lease payments you gave him).

Finally, please do consider speaking to a lawyer. Advice on the internet can only go so far...

One option you could consider is to ignore him completely. You might think that you are poor enough that you have no assets to be seized and that he can't get blood from a stone. I wouldn't advise doing this unless you understood the full implications of how this could affect you. It could affect your credit score and report. The debt could be sent to collections and you could get harassing phone calls for years. Your interest rates on your existing credit cards could go up and you could be denied future credit or offered loans at higher rates. You might be denied rental opportunities by other landlords. It could affect employment. Your wages could be garnished. By not taking action you might end up owing all the lease months he wishes and is able to claim against you, whereas by being proactive there could be a way to limit the damage to you and your finances. So think carefully!

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