LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Q. I have a tenant who says she wants out of her one-year lease. She has been saying that for months, and now there are two more months on the lease. We told her that if she moves and the home is ready to show, then we will advertise and look for a new tenant and her rental obligation stops when the new tenant begins the rental. We have been very upfront that it may take a week or two months to get in a new tenant. We cannot know. She insists that we find the new renter (we have made it clear that we, not she, will be selecting the next tenant) before she moves so she is not “paying for an empty house while living elsewhere.” She has not moved out and the house is not in showable condition.
We do not want to go to the considerable time and effort to advertise and interview potential tenants until she has vacated, because what if we did find a new tenant and this one does not leave on time or just procrastinates and stays anyway. Then we are in a different legal mess with a newly contracted tenant who could not move in. Under the law, do we have any “obligation to re-rent” before the tenant actually vacates, as this tenant is insisting?
A. You do not have an obligation to re-rent the unit before the tenant moves.
You are right that, if the tenant changes her mind and doesn’t move, you may have problems with the new tenant. If the unit is not ready at the beginning of the lease, the new tenant can opt to terminate the rental agreement. But, you do have an obligation to mitigate your damages (cut your losses) should the tenant move out. She is obligated through the end of the lease, unless you are able to rent it out sooner, but you have to make a good faith effort to find a new tenant.
I know what you mean about trying to re-rent while the tenant is still there with a dirty unit or not even knowing if she will leave or not at the end of it all. When a unit doesn’t show well, new tenants are sometimes not able to see past the mess and may not want to rent. It takes a lot of time to get permission from the current tenant to show the unit and to process an application.
Allowing this tenant to find a new tenant is not necessarily a bad idea. If she has to find a replacement tenant, she would have to do the advertising and may be more willing to keep the house clean in order to show it. That would mean less work for you. Just stress to her that the new tenant must meet your criteria and pass your screening procedures.
With only two months left on the lease, you may want to just let the tenant leave early without penalty and start over with a better tenant. You will miss out on a few weeks of rent, but your peace of mind and sanity might be worth it. Or, if you are adamant, you can stand your ground…it’s up to you.
It sounds like the tenant may actually stay the entire length of the lease. I’m sure you want her to leave anyway. If it gets close to the end of the lease, write her a letter stating that you will not be renewing her lease. That way, she will know that she does have to vacate by a certain date. If she stays beyond that date, she will be considered a hold-over tenant and may be liable for twice the monthly rent. Also, you don’t say where this tenant is moving to, but it is not easy sometimes to find another place to live. Most tenants will have to pay rent for two units during the move-out/move-in period. It takes at least a couple of days to move all their belongings and clean the old unit.