Now, it seems, it is the time of the year where I see a number of landlord and tenant problems. I dont know why this is, or I would have one of my patented theories to describe this seemingly irrational behavior. But just this morning I had to write a bunch of letters on behalf of tenants informing landlords that theyre moving out, and on behalf of landlords telling their tenants to move out.
I know Ive explored this topic in previous columns (let me know which ones, Brenda), but I think its time to give a list of Dos and Donts when it comes to ending or terminating a lease.
If youre a tenant:
DONT withhold rent payments over damage to a property. See, as a species, thats our natural reflex when it comes to a property thats damaged; we just dont pay rent.
While somewhat logical, it isnt legal. If there is perceived damage to a property or other factors that cause a tenancy to be disrupted, continue to pay the rent, and file suit against the landlord. At the very least, you can go to a court and request a rent escrow. After a hearing, the judge may allow you to pay rent into an escrow until the landlord corrects the issue. This acts as a mighty powerful incentive for the landlord to fix a problem, believe me.
Also believe me that, if your defense to not paying rent at an eviction hearing is that the property has something wrong with it, the judge will ask for the rent escrow account information. If you dont have it, you will lose, regardless of the strength of your argument.
DO read your lease carefully. There are repairs and deductibles that you may have to make on your own, and thus pay for on your own. If you attempt to break the lease because the dishwasher is busted, you may be surprised that not only do you have to arrange for the repair yourself, but you may be responsible for paying for the repairs.
Also, be sure you know the terms and penalties to break the lease early. Man up and take the punishment if you have to leave the property early. Making vague excuses for why you had to leave the property before the expiration of the lease will not work.
DONT leave the property in terrible condition and expect to get all of your security deposit returned. The landlord has to rent the property out as soon as possible to continue making their money. If you leave the property in deplorable condition, and expect all of your security deposit back, you have another thing coming.
Therefore, DO attend the final walkthrough after youve left the property, preferably with a video camera. That way, you and the landlord will be on the same page with what needs to be fixed, and the estimated costs for each.
If youre a landlord:
DO respond to your tenants concerns promptly in writing. If you get a ton of e-mails from a tenant about a bunch of issues with your property, take the time to write back to them with your response to their concerns.
This is important for two reasons. One, theres a written record of when a concern was brought to your attention, as well as a written record that shows your response; and two, sometimes tenants just want to be heard and addressed. A written response will let them know youre thinking about the issue, and that a solution, if one exists, may be forthcoming.
DO respond to your tenants about the status of their security deposit within forty-five days of their vacancy. If you dont do this, you will forfeit the security deposit. Plain and simple. Just do it.
DONT allow people that arent on the lease or pets in the property without a written addendum to the lease. Many times, landlords try to be good people and turn a blind eye to the brother-in-law that just needs a place to crash, or for the sisters pets that need to stay for a while. If said occupants cause trouble for you or other tenants, and theyre not on the lease, this will be your problem, and could expose you to unwanted liability. If youre generous, let them stay, but require an addendum.
That should be all for right now. If I come up with anything else, I will let you, the dear reader know. However, just remember, no matter what side of the equation youre on landlord or tenant providing living space is a business, and should be treated as such.
Chris Markham writes a regular column for fredericknewspost.com.