A lease is an agreement between a landlord and tenant. It is a document binding both parties to the terms of the agreement-it is a legal and binding commitment that is enforceable by law. Should either party default, or "lease bust," the other party may take legal and according action. Here are some examples of how a lease is "busted" and how the damaged party can respond.
- Tenant abandonment. If the tenant decides to up and leave the apartment rental without the proper notice (as indicated by the lease agreement), the landlord may seek damages. The statutes vary by state, so you should refer to RentLaw or the website for the specific state in question. In most states, the landlord can seek money awards for the months the tenant has "skipped out on" in the rental housing authority circuit or small claims court.
- Non-payment of rent. A tenant is not holding up his part of the agreement if he does not pay the rent due monthly (or whatever the arrangement is). This can be grounds for eviction. After submitting a written "Notice to Quit" to the tenant, the landlord may evict the tenant after an amount of time, typically fourteen days. The tenant can pay the amount due within 10 days of receiving this notice. Again, each state varies on the specifics of the process, so be sure to do your research before the eviction process.
- Damages to unit. The tenant has broken the lease if he has inflicted undue amounts of damage to the apartment, or has had guests that have done damage to the unit. The landlord, if able to make and win a case against the tenant, may evict the tenant, and receive amounts totaling damages, lost rent, and lawyer's fees.
- Security deposit. If the landlord fails to give the security deposit back to a deserving tenant (the apartment was left in good shape at the termination of the lease) within the time allotted by state law, he is subject to legal action. In some states, the amount due is triple the amount of the deposit. If the landlord does not give a written notice detailing damages and amount of money withheld within a certain period of time (dictated by state law), the tenant may be awarded the deposit along with "damages" up to triple the amount. Tenants should refer to the state rental housing authority board, who may then refer the case to small claims court.
- Hazardous/unsafe environment. If the landlord fails to provide the tenant with a safe environment (provision of water, adequate heat source, structurally sound infrastructure, unit compatible with the current health codes, etc.), then he has broken his agreement with the tenant. This form of lease busting can be considered a neglect of premises, and the tenant may take legal action. Withholding rent and/or leaving the apartment may be legitimate for the tenant. Monetary awards for loss of property (if applicable) and damages can be awarded in small claims court or the rental housing authority. Refer to the state laws and always seek legal advice before proceeding with any of these actions.
- Terms of lease. The lease is broken if any of the terms have been broken during the duration of the lease. For instance, if the tenant harbors a dog in the apartment and the lease indicates "no pets allowed," the tenant has technically broken the lease. At this point, the landlord has the right to seek action-monetary or eviction. Again, see the appropriate state laws for retribution for the neglect of the lease terms.
Most of "lease-busting" occurs by the tenant when he leaves an apartment early, without paying rent due. The landlord can protect himself by ALWAYS requiring a security or last month (or both) along with first month's rent. This way, even if he does not choose legal action against the tenant, he has some money in the bag. If you have questions about any issues pertaining to lease arrangements visit RentLaw. This website can direct you to individual state statutes and regulations. Most states have "Rental House Authorities" or "Rental Housing Resource Centers" that can be used for advice and to start legal action against "lease busters."