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Get it in writing

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So I made a stupid mistake. A mistake that someone who knows finance and who actually has a law degree shouldn’t make.

I didn’t get something in writing. And now it may be coming back to bite me.

Brief background: I bought my house in February and moved in March. My apartment lease was up in September. Prior to house hunting, I contacting my leasing office to find out the penalties for breaking the lease. The rental agreement just said that I was liable for actual damages, which meant they could come after me for the full rent, but I knew that others had broken their leases without facing that penalty. I was told that I had to give 60 days notice and pay a one month penalty.

Okay. Not too bad. Definitely doable.

So I bought the house. Though we planned to move in March, I didn’t give notice until the day after we closed in February, just in case the purchase fell through. There had been enough blips in the process that I didn’t want to put all my eggs in one basket and then find myself without a home. I put in the form and went on my way.

Then we got a letter telling us we owed rent (and pet fees!) through the end of September as penalty. Great. Of course, I flipped out a bit, but once I had calmed down, I went in and talked to one of the accounts managers. I presented my case, told him that I had relied on the information that I was given and asked what we could do. He responded that since I had been a good tenant, always paying rent early, and because I wasn’t asking to be immediately let out of the lease but offering a reasonable alternative, that he would accept it. I asked him to get me a letter to this effect, but… it never happened. I shouldn’t have let it drop, but the moving got the best of me and I sort of forgot about it.

Big mistake.

Last week, I received a letter indicating that we owed a bit over $7500 left on the lease (this time not including the pet fees, thankfully) and that I needed to pay within 10 days or it would be sent to collections. I immediately called and was told to provide the information in writing and that they would research and get back to me. So I laid out my case and now I wait.

I’m lucky in that I do have $7500 available. It’s going to take some shifting of funds, but it’s in the emergency fund and I can get to it. I just don’t feel like this is the sort of emergency that I should use the money for. It’s a stupid mistake on my part. I’m just hoping that it goes my way. Even if I can get out of paying some of the money, I will be happy.

Lesson learned. Get everything in writing!

6 comments to Get it in writing

  • Odds are in your favor. They lose a lot of money when they send it to collections, so they are likely to make a deal with you. Best of luck – that stinks when you thought you had already settled the issue!

  • Good luck and I hope you don’t’ have to use that emergency fund to pay it off.

  • spiffi

    If they won’t negotiate, see if you can find a tenant for the remainder of your lease – if you can sublet out the apartment, that works.

    My experience with breaking a lease has been that they *must* put every effort into finding a new tenant to replace you – you are only responsible for the rent during the period between when you move out and when a new tenant moves in. They can’t just let the unit sit empty until your lease runs out and expect you to pay the rent.

  • Man, that sucks. Apartment rental companies are the worst. I’m so glad I moved into a condo with a single owner who isn’t out to gouge his tenants. Good luck with getting this all taken care of!

  • Jim Hass

    check with the state as well if they don;t work with you. most require that the rental place only charge you what they lose. So if the place was rented they can only charge you while it was not rented.
    Even if its not reneted they have to try to rent it out. So if they sat on it they can;t claim more than a month or two, again check you state.

    If it goes to claims only respond in writing that you want proof of claim and whebn you get that sue the rental company in small claims court. may nto win all but should reduce it a lot more than what they want.

  • I am not an attorney and this is not legal advice but…

    In virtually every case the landlord is required to use reasonable efforts to mitigate their damages. That is, they’re required to advertise the apartment for rent, show it, etc.

    If they attempt to mitigate their damages you’re liability is generally capped at whatever the actual damages are (e.g. if they rent it 3 months after you move out, your liability wouldn’t be much more than 3x your montly rent)

    On the other hand if they don’t exercise reasonable efforts, you may have very little or no liability…

    Again not an attorney and not legal advice, but may be worth talking to an attorney friend…