How do I get out of My Lease? What Rights do I Have if Things are Broken in my Apartment?
I frequently get calls from tenants asking for advice on what to do when they are having problems with their living situation and their landlord.
Here are a couple of common problems and things you should think about in order to get solutions:
- Your lease agreement, of course – If you have a question regarding your living conditions or your rights, the answer is most often found in your lease agreement. This seems obvious, but too often I get questions for which the answer is in the lease agreement, and that person simply did not look. Most important things can be found there: amount of rent, what happens when there is a late payment, can I keep pets in my apartment, can I sub-lease the apartment, who should fix my leaky faucet, etc. **Also, if you are thinking of entering into a lease agreement, I highly recommend you have an attorney review the lease agreement with you so that you understand what is in the lease agreement. Also, the attorney can make recommendations as to what you might want to add, delete or change based on your circumstances. If you do not have a professional look over your lease agreement before you sign it, you could be stuck with some uncomfortable conditions.
- Mold – Mold is a common complaint in stuffy and wet apartments. Mold can also be a health hazard. If you suspect that mold is growing in your apartment, make arrangements to have it tested. Often, your local government will provide testing services. If it is mold, you should check your lease to determine whose responsibility it is to remove it. If the mold presents a serious health hazard, it may be a breach of implied warranty of habitability and you may have recourse against the landlord (see breach of implied warranty of habitability below).
- Implied warranty of habitability – In most states, including New Jersey, all landlords are controlled by the implied warranty of habitability. Implied warranty of habitability means that, regardless of what the lease agreement provides, a landlord cannot lease a property to a tenant that is not suitable to live in. In simple terms, it must be habitable. Common examples of situations where there is a breach of this warranty include things like no heat in the winter, no ventilation, no adequate light, plumbing or sanitation, no electricity, no potable water, and insufficient security. There are many potential remedies available when this occurs, such as the tenant reducing her rent payment for the month, or the tenant fixing the problem on her own and withholding from the rent payment the amount of money she spent on the repairs. However, before you jump right in and pay less than full rent next month, you should consult with a landlord / tenant attorney and review your lease.
- Terminating your lease early – Say you found your dream house or another gorgeous apartment at half the rent you are currently paying. Can you tell your landlord “Auf wiedersehen!” and call it a day? Not so fast. Like everything else, consult with your landlord / tenant attorney and review your lease agreement. Important things you should look for are:
- a) How long the lease term is for? If you agreed to a 1 year lease term and you are only 6 months in, you are not likely to be able to leave your lease without significant consequences. If the lease does not mention a term, you might be in a month to month tenancy where you simply pay one month’s rent at a time indefinitely;
- b) What notice do you need to give in order to get out of your lease? – see #5 below, but you are likely to be required to give advance written notice that you will not be renewing your lease a certain number of days or months prior to the actual termination date of your lease. If you do not give notice, you could be in breach of your lease and may even be on the hook for an entire new term.
- If the circumstances are such that you must get out of your lease and there are months left on your lease term, you may be obligated to pay the rent up until the end of the term even if you do not continue to live at that premises.
- Duty to Mitigate – If you give notice to your landlord and leave your lease early, the landlord still has an obligation to make an effort to re-lease the premises to someone else. If the landlord cannot show that he or she has made reasonable efforts to re-lease the premises, then you may have a defense if the landlord sues you or tries to collect for the rent still owed for the remaining balance of the lease term.
5. Notice requirements – If you are a tenant in a lease, the most important thing you should always be thinking about is documentation in writing. Most times anything important that must be done (terminating the lease, paying rent, making repairs etc.) requires notification to the respective parties in writing, and the contract often specifies how this should be done. Even if the contract doesn’t specify that it should be in writing, tenants should always consider sending important correspondence to their landlord by written mail, or even certified mail to confirm receipt of that correspondence. In the unfortunate event that the tenant is called to court over a dispute, that tenant can feel better knowing that she can show the judge the letter sent to the landlord indicating that she intended not to renew her lease rather than hope that the judge believes her story.
The above tips are just the tip of the iceberg. Landlords and tenants have many rights and obligations and other significant things they should consider. So, if you have an issue or concern regarding your lease or living arrangements, call an attorney versed in landlord tenant law to discuss your options.
Contact the Law Office of Hasner and Hasner, PA
To discuss your legal concerns with an experienced and knowledgeable attorney, call our office at 856-282-0777 or contact us by e-mail. There’s no cost or obligation for your first consultation. We keep traditional office hours, but are often available for before or after-hours appointments. Evening and weekend meetings can be arranged upon request.