Tenant who signed a year lease wants to terminate after 2 months

18 Replies

Hello my fellow landlords, 

I have a dilemma, I am a District of Columbia landlord who recently secured a new tenant (June 2021), who wants to terminate her lease because she believes the unit has a few issues. Initially when she moved in the ac wasn't working properly but, has was repaired, then she she noticed there were small bugs in bathroom. D.C. is very tenant friendly but, I do not want to place myself in an bad position. Technically, we have an agreement but, I do not want anyone on my property who does not feel comfortable, and who could be potentially a liability. In short, I do want to relinquish-cancel out the lease but, believe I should be compensated for the inconvenience.

Please advise.

I would simply hold her responsible for the time it takes for you to find a new tenant. Tell her she’ll save money if she lets others look while she’s still renting as it might take a month or 2 if it can’t be cleaned and then shown until she moves out. You may find that rents have climbed 5-10% in the last two months. 

An AC that has since been repaired and small bugs in the bathroom. That's it? That's not a reason to back out of a lease, especially if you have made a reasonable effort to address each issue. I suspect more is going on here. Every rental I've ever lived in has had issues and has had bugs. Bugs are everywhere. I'm not talking about infestation or anything, I'm talking about common pests that come and go: ants, flies, centipedes, moths, spiders, etc. Heck, I've seen a mouse in two rentals but it's not uncommon for one to make an appearance in this region at certain times of the year. There should be a clear penalty for breaking the lease early and it should be spelled out in the lease. This individual was not tricked into the apartment. They knew what they were getting into here. 

Originally posted by @Gehmelle Johnson :

@Anthony Dooley Out of curiosity where do you post your vacancies. I use Zillow, which typically feeds the other rental websites. 

The property manager lists them on their website. I also get referrals from friends and tenants.

@Gehmelle Johnson have you addressed the bug issue? If you have would get on the phone to have a conversation if they are willing to stay as you’ve addressed issues. yes everywhere has bugs & I would remind them that. If they are Adamant about leaving ask for 30 days to find a new tenant.

As others have stated here, inform the tenant that you will terminate the agreement once you find a suitable tenant to take the home. If this tenant is causing you headache already things will not improve in the future. You could also look at charging a buyout fee, a percentage of the balance due to satisfy your desire to be compensated for the inconvenience. This would obviously need to be socialized with the tenant prior. Either way anything you do get it documented in a signed agreement!

Have her sign a termination and give the proper notice (30 or 60 days required by the lease/law). As others said she's responsible for the rent until you can find someone else, so it is in her best interest to make the place accessible and in good condition for showings-which you should do.   

Originally posted by @Eric James :

With all due respect, with that attitude you shouldn't be a landlord. You'll end up losing money. 

 Ok, please forgive my naivety. As a new user, could you explain this statement a little more? Thank you.

Honestly- if you aren't sure how to handle this, you should hire a property manager. 

Your lease should already tell you what you need to do when a tenant wants or needs to break lease. If they aren't happy with the property, let them out- don't argue about it, don't lose any sleep over it, that happens. 

Legally, you can't charge them any rent beyond what it takes to cover your vacancy until you get it rented again. Your lease should have some language around damages if they break lease, but I wouldn't pursue that if I were you. 

Best of luck!

Originally posted by Austin B.:
Originally posted by @Eric James :

With all due respect, with that attitude you shouldn't be a landlord. You'll end up losing money. 

 Ok, please forgive my naivety. As a new user, could you explain this statement a little more? Thank you.

Lease break comes at an expense to the landlord. Your time to find a new tenant has expense. Most property management companies charge between 75% and 100% of a months rent for leasing services. That covers their costs and time to advertise, perform showings, screen tenants and sign leases. On top of that, there is time required for move-out and move-in inspection.

I would personally tell the tenant. "In the summer months, bugs are more likely to find their way into a property. As your lease states X is responsible for dealing with bugs or pests at the property." If your lease says the landlord is responsible, hire an exterminator to assess the problem and deal with it. If the tenant is responsible, reference the lease clause that states this.

As far as the lease break request, I would refuse the request. I would say, "You signed a legal contract to occupy the property for one year and I expect you to meet your obligation. My obligation is to keep the property is good repair, as I demonstrated with repairing the AC problem in a timely manner. Issues like bugs may come up during your tenancy and we will work to resolve based on who has responsibility in the lease."

Odds are good the tenant isn't leaving because of bugs. They may want to live in a different neighborhood and figured they would use that as an excuse to get out. Tell them firmly no and usually they will back down. If they are insistent, just offer a lease break option in writing. 

Typically lease break involved one of two methods:

1. Tenant pays rent up until a new tenant occupies. Tenant also pays releasing fee of around a months rent. The disadvantage of this method is you are asking them for rent after they move out of the property.

2. Tenant pays a lease cancellation fee that is a set amount. Typically this is 2-3 months and the fee covers both expected vacancy and releasing expenses. This is cleaner because you are getting the fees before they leave the property. 

Originally posted by @Austin B. :
Originally posted by @Eric James:

With all due respect, with that attitude you shouldn't be a landlord. You'll end up losing money. 

 Ok, please forgive my naivety. As a new user, could you explain this statement a little more? Thank you.

 "I don't want anyone who doesn't feel comfortable....". "I want to cancel the lease...." 

These aren't things a professional whose goal is making money does.

Originally posted by @Eric James :

 "I don't want anyone who doesn't feel comfortable....". "I want to cancel the lease...." 

These aren't things a professional whose goal is making money does.

 Well said. I'm still shocked at the number of people who seem to think that RE investing/management is anything other than a business. Real Estate ownership is going to be the largest investment most people will make in their lifetime.......treat it as such.

As many have said the tenant is legally obligated to uphold their end of the lease.  And you would be in your rights to deny the request.  But it sounds like you are managing the property yourself.  If so, you need to consider what life is going to be like with a tenant who complains constantly.  Yes, this is a business.  But if you are going to be constantly harassed, and from the sounds of it you will be, make a business and personal decision to get the tenant out.  But don't take a bath on it.  Tell the tenant you will agree to breaking the lease as long they continue to pay the rent until you have someone new.  And if there are any costs associated with doing this the tenant needs to pay them.  Doing this does not make you a bad business owner.  It makes you a business owner who looks at the big picture, including your well being.

Good luck!

I let tenants out of leases if they do not want to keep the lease.  I would rather lose a month's rent that fix the damage from their neglect or abuse of the property.  And I also understand sometimes lives change.  I only want tenants that want to live in my property.

Some might say that is not money minded, or professional, and I am ok with that opinion.  

Kind of like some stores make returns very hard, others make returns easy.  One will have a higher customer satisfaction, pass around good words about the store, but may be taken advantage of at times.  What store do you go to, especially for things like gifts for other?

When the rental business is not hot like now, that reputation might get you a renter when you need one.