DARLENE HIGA (RA), RMP
The Realty Company, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I have been living in a home for a little over two years. I really like it and have been very happy here. I recently had a baby and could now use something bigger and found the perfect place. I still have several more months remaining on my lease. What can I do to end my lease early? How should I approach my Landlord?
A. You want to approach your Landlord as politely and as positive as you can. Offer to advertise the property on your own and have the place ready to be shown at any time. Of course, put your request in writing! Different Landlords will respond differently. Some will say, “If you leave early you will forfeit your Security Deposit!” Others will say, “Okay, good luck with the new house. Let me know when you are out.” However, what does the Landlord-Tenant Code say about a tenant breaking the lease?
Section 521-70, Item (d) states the following: If the tenant wrongfully quits the dwelling unit (in other words, breaks the lease) and unequivocally indicates by words or deeds the tenant’s intention not to resume the tenancy, the tenant shall be liable to the landlord for the lesser of the following amounts for such abandonment: (1)The entire rent due for the remainder of the term; or (2)All rent accrued during the period reasonably necessary to re-rent the dwelling unit at the fair rental, plus the difference between such fair rent and the rent agreed to in the prior rental agreement and a reasonable commission for the renting of the dwelling unit. This paragraph applies if the amount calculated hereunder is less than the amount calculated under paragraph (1) whether or not the landlord re-rents the dwelling unit.
Let’s break this down. First of all, the tenant is still bound by the lease! The tenant has to pay for the entire lease…but…there is a catch! The owner must mitigate damages by getting the place ready for re-rent in a reasonable time! In other words, the owner can’t just sit on his duff and not do anything and collect rent from the tenant who is breaking the lease and is already out of the unit. As long as the owner gets the place ready and starts advertising he can charge the old tenant rent up to the time the unit is re-rented. The rent asked for, however, has to be fair market rent. If the market is in a downward turn, you might have to ask less than what the current tenant is paying.
If the current tenant is paying $1,000 and you rent the unit out for $950 and there are four months left in the old tenant’s rental period, then you can charge the tenant the difference, which, in this example, would come to $200. A reasonable rental commission is considered to be eight to twelve percent of the rent.
So, to get back to the original question. Be nice to the Landlord, do most of the work for him such as advertising and showing the property, and chances are everything will work out fine. As a tenant, be prepared to pay a little double rent.
Answers to questions in Landlord Tenant Q&A are provided by members of the Oahu Chapter of the National Association of Residential Property Managers (NARPM), an organization that supports the professional and ethical practices of rental home management through networking, education, and certification. The Oahu Chapter, founded in 2004, has become the largest in the nation with 175 registered members.
Disclaimer: The answers provided in this column by Realtors address individual cases and should not be construed as interpretations of the law. For specific information on Hawaii State Law, go to http:// hawaii.gov/ dcca/areas /ocp/ landlord_tenant or contact an attorney.