New landlord, tenant wants to break lease, need advice!

11 Replies

TLDR;  I live in colorado. Tenant signed a year lease with me.  She voiced she was unhappy with the living situation.  I offered to help her find a replacement (sent her pictures of the property, got her set up on different platforms to find someone to take over her lease etc.).  It's now the dead of winter and close to the holidays.  Making it difficult to find a replacement.  She's since insulted me daily, generally caused problems in the house, and has told me that she's not obligated to find a replacement tenant.  She informed me yesterday that she will be moving out 1/1/2020 regardless of whether a replacement has been found or not.  

What do i do here?  Can i take her to court for the rest of the rent?  I have her saying that she will be moving out on 1/1/2020 and I will document when she actually hires movers and moves out of the property.  I will be seeking legal advice tomorrow, but looking for any good suggestions here!  Any help is much appreciated.


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Full backstory - I purchased my first deal as a house hack this past September (it's been a few years in the making, hurray! :))

I found renters for my house on a room by room basis, I did due diligence on renters: background checks, credit checks, personality checks, was picky with who i chose to live with.

I successfully got tenants for each of the rooms!  All is well!

However last month, the person renting the largest room in my property had some issues.

She started to complain to me about things that didn't make sense.  She accused two other tenants constantly of making messes they didn't make (i would have to check with other people to see who made small messes, ie leaving bits of granola on a counter, or not putting away of the broom properly).  I took care of her complaints at first but they began to progress to an almost daily event.

She accused them of making fun of her via text and when i read the texts saw nothing that could even be misconstrued as such.  

She made up situations that didn't happen. 

The two other tenants resolved to sit down with her in a meeting to try to solve any issues.  They asked that I mediate the situation which i did.


In the meeting she voiced that she was being picked on because of her race and gender (african american female), DESPITE the other two tenants also being african american females.  She accused them of not cleaning up, making the messes they didn't make, things that i've verified to be incorrect by asking other tenants and from what i've seen. 

Since then she redirected her animosity directly at me.  I'm not sure why, and from that point I have only written correspondence with her. After that meeting she voiced wanting to move out and break the lease.  I agreed as long as she could find a suitable person to take over her lease.  I set her up with the platforms she would need to use, but told her that the onus was on her to find a suitable person to rent the space. Meaning specifically she'd have to show the house and her room.  And when she found that person to come to me so i could give them the background check, and credit check and to meet them. 

For about a month after telling her what to do she hasn't found anyone yet.  Which is unsurprising as we've had a lot of snow in colorado now, and it's so close to the holidays.

During this time she's asked that i lower the rent that she pays so she can find someone easier.  I said now.  She called me racist, an ******* a and abusive in response to this.  Worth noting 4/5 of my tenants are african american and we frequently do things together. It's completely unfounded.  She's also sworn at me via text, names, etc. etc.

Yesterday she informed me that she will be moving out of her room 1/1/2020.  

What do i do here? Can i take her to court for the rest of the rent? I have her saying that she will be moving out on 1/1/2020 and I will document when she actually hires movers and moves out of the property. I will be seeking legal advice tomorrow, but looking for any good suggestions here! Any help is much appreciated.

What does your lease say about her breaking the lease?  Best option is to tell her she's responsible for the rent and then YOU find a new tenant. I would not trust an unhappy tenant to find a new roommate.

 If your lease states that there is a penalty for breaking the lease-often 1-2 months' rent, keep her deposit but AFTER she moves out, give her an invoice for any damages and the outstanding rent.  She is required to give you 30 days' notice; typically before the 1st of the month and move out would be on the last day of the month.

She sounds toxic and you are probably better off with a new tenant/roommate.  Are you near any colleges or the university?  Put up ads there for mature students.  Often you will have grad students starting in Jan.

Originally posted by @Theresa Harris :

What does your lease say about her breaking the lease?  Best option is to tell her she's responsible for the rent and then YOU find a new tenant. I would not trust an unhappy tenant to find a new roommate.

 If your lease states that there is a penalty for breaking the lease-often 1-2 months' rent, keep her deposit but AFTER she moves out, give her an invoice for any damages and the outstanding rent.  She is required to give you 30 days' notice; typically before the 1st of the month and move out would be on the last day of the month.

She sounds toxic and you are probably better off with a new tenant/roommate.  Are you near any colleges or the university?  Put up ads there for mature students.  Often you will have grad students starting in Jan.

 Thank you for the response!  I appreciate it and the advice on how to find a new tenant / roommate.  Crazy thing is too, she has a masters degree!  I turned away a few people due to just wanting to have mature, decent people to live with, and she seemed pretty decent from the outset.

My lease handles breaking the lease as such -> 

Landlord may, at Landlord's
discretion, as agent for Tenant, relet the Premises, or any part thereof, for the whole or any part
thereof, for the whole or any part of the then unexpired term, and may receive and collect all rent
payable by virtue of such reletting, and, at Landlord's option, hold Tenant liable for any difference
between the rent that would have been payable under this Colorado Lease Agreement during the
balance of the unexpired term, if this Colorado Lease Agreement had continued in force, and the
net rent for such period realized by Landlord by means of such reletting.


If I'm correct, I read that she'd be liable for the rest of the lease amount if she breaks the lease.  

What do you think?

@Zachary Collins - We chatted briefly about this yesterday, but I now have had some time to think on it. 

It should say in the lease that she can break the lease, but it is two months of rent unless you find someone new in which case you would reimburse her the pro-rated amount. She also will need to give you 30 days notice of doing so. 

If she does not pay up, you can keep her full security deposit and invoice her for any additional charges (damages, unpaid utilities, etc.). 

If she never pays up, I suspect that you will be able to take her to court and call debt collections to show that she still owes you money. Then this will show up on her credit report and it will be a huge hit on her credit score. 

I have not ACTUALLY been through this yet, so I'd suggest talking with your lawyer about this when you do talk to them today. 

Congrats on your first rental. In the future, don’t task a tenant with finding a replacement, that’s your job as a landlord. They have no incentive to care about someone’s qualifications/suitability for the house, they’ll just want to fill their spot.

If I were in your shoes, I’d want this person out of the house yesterday. I’d rather be losing money on an empty room than living with the person you described. You also need to think of the well being of your other tenants, better to have a temporary vacancy than to drive out two good tenants.

Keep working to get a new tenant in her room. Per the terms of your lease, the old tenant will be responsible for lost rent while you find a new tenant. However, there is a big different between what it says in your lease, and what you can easily collect. Double check the laws in your state, but you can probably take lost rent out of the security deposit. If the lost rent and damages exceed the security deposit, you can invoice the renter for what is owed, but you’ll probably need to go to court to collect. Up to you if it is worth the time and hassle to do so.

The lease we use says that ending the lease before the full term will forfeit one month’s rent, which is permitted to be taken out of the security deposit. This is to account for the time and expense for finding a new tenant. The tenant will also be responsible for rent until a new tenant moves in, as well as any damages to the property. I’d suggest using a lease document that is more straightforward than what you’re using, and clearly outlines expectations/penalties for breaking the lease. Having a lease full of “thereof” and other legalese isn’t necessary. If your expectations are easy to understand, tenants will be more likely to follow them, and there is less room for interpretations. Over the years, we’ve added several clauses to account for different circumstances that came up with past tenants.

Good luck!

@Zachary Collins , before you go to court with this person that has obviously developed symptoms of 'nasty tenant syndrome', check with your local municipality to make sure you and your living arrangement in the property are conforming to code.  I'm not saying or presuming they are not conforming, but we don't know from your post how many bedrooms, baths, people occupy the building.  

@Zachary Collins , my first bit of advice: don't get involved with tenants drama.  Although sounds like you live there as well.

  • Replacing Tenant:  Yes the onus is on her, however for your own risk you should be helping with the process.
  • Court Costs:  There are 4 roommates, I'm assuming rent is around $500.  How much stress and time will it take to go through the court process?  And even if you win, factor in the collections component.
  • Security Deposit:  Technically she is still on the lease, even if she moves out.  Hold onto her security deposit and deduct rent and late fees.  There are state laws that require you pay back deposits within certain duration, the key here is that her lease is still active.
  • Addendums:  After she has left, I would make sure to create an addendum to officially remove her from the lease.


@Zachary Collins as a courtesy to the tenants who are staying, get rid of the disgruntled one asap. It can't be a fun living situation for the "good" tenants. She has informed you that she is moving out - let her. Then quietly (if you want) go about collecting any monies owed. Start with the security deposit and file a garnishment if that isn't enough. In the meantime, it sounds like you are giving up because of the holidays. Don't. Go ahead and market the vacancy - you may get someone quicker than you think and you won't have to keep all/any of her money. 

Thanks a ton to everyone who took the time to comment. I reached out to some of you individually, but I truly appreciate the good points and guidance.

The strategy I've formulated for moving forward based on these responses and my own research -> 

1) I've re-activated listings on facebook, apartments.com and zillow and I have scheduled a few viewings for the room.   Scheduling viewings and actually having someone rent are two very different things in my experience thus far. We'll see how they go. 

2) I've checked, read, and verified that the room and house are up to the municipality code.

3) I reached out to a lawyer.  My obligation as a landlord in the situation of an abandonment is to mitigate losses.  I've documented that I've posted listings on various rental sites, as well as showing the space to prospective new tenants.  I've also documented her correspondence detailing her intention to leave and when.  

I've decided that if the room is vacant for a period of time or I am forced to rent the room for reasonably less than it currently goes for, and it amounts to much more than her $300 security deposit, I will take her to small claims court to recoup the loss.  She currently pays $1000/month for rent.

This situation has forced me to become intimately familiar with proper procedures on evictions / lease abandonment and how I'm operating in general.

 I'm viewing it like a learning experience at this point.

4) I've added an early termination clause to my lease, at the behest of many comments here.  It's two months rent.  This will hopefully absolve the situation from occurring again.

5) I've informed the other tenants of her now-solidified move out date.  She signed a lease at a new apartment. Fortunately every one of the other roommates I get along very well with, and they're quite lax.

6) Going forward in addition to performing typical background, credit, and personality checks I'll be asking for previous places a person has lived and calling to verify references and character.

Thanks again to each and every person who responded!  Have a great week!

@Zachary Collins

Attitude is everything. Especially when there is a lease. The lack of a clause for her to get out of the lease is not your fault.

Seems to me that you gave her good options.

The reason for the paper, is because people have been breaking handshakes for years.

You keep being civil. When she is late. Send the notices, and get inside to see if she killed the property beyond the deposit.