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A new renter would free tenant from lease

APARTMENT LIFE

January 09, 2005|Kevin Postema | Special to The Times

Question: We are leasing an apartment in Orange County and recently extended the lease until October. However, we are looking for a residence to buy and would like to move out of the apartment as soon as we find a home. I called the management to find out if we could get out of the lease by paying some kind of a penalty. They said no and that we are responsible for paying the rent until they or we find a new tenant. Is there any way for us to get out of the contract before it is up?

Answer: While some lease contracts provide for the payment of damages to end a lease early, it is not required. There is no way for you to get out of the contract early without replacement tenants.

Management is correct when it says you are responsible for the payment of rent under the lease until it expires unless replacement tenants are found.

If you find new tenants to move in the day after you move out, you have no further rent liability because the new tenants assume it immediately.

If it takes a week to get new tenants in, you owe rent for the week in between your move out and their move in. Conceivably, you may owe the rent to the end of the lease term if no new tenants can be found.

The owners must, however, make good-faith efforts to re-rent the unit to mitigate your damages.

Leave welcome mat for visitors

Question: I own a 10-unit all-singles apartment property in Los Angeles. The lease clearly states that only one adult is allowed in the unit. Lately we have noticed three other people staying in the unit on a daily basis, coming and going and leaving later in the day. We talked to the tenant about this, but she says they are just visiting. If the contract clearly states only one adult is allowed, can they continue to do this?

Answer: They can continue to do this. Your rental contract can limit the number of occupants living in the unit. It cannot prohibit the tenant from having guests or visitors, which these three people clearly are. According to your own letter, they are "coming and going and leaving later in the day," presumably to go to their own homes.

You are allowed to limit the length of stay of overnight guests in your rental contract. For instance, you can limit overnight guests to two consecutive nights. You cannot prohibit them, or visitors, altogether.

The meaning of last month's rent

Question: We moved into our L.A. apartment 2 1/2 years ago. We paid first and last month's rent and a separate security deposit. Although we started out on a year lease, we've been month-to-month tenants since the end of the first year. Our rent was raised on each of our anniversaries.

Now we've just entered into escrow on a house and will soon be giving our 30-day notice to move out of the apartment. When we move, will we owe the current rent as the last month's rent or is it deemed paid in full because of our previous prepayment of the last month's rent?

Answer: Generally in this situation, a deposit for the "last month's rent" is defined in the lease or rental agreement as a deposit toward the last month's rent and is not intended to be the full payment for the last month's rent. Under state law, all monies held in deposit are considered security deposits no matter how they are identified in the rental contract.

Check your original lease agreement to find out if it includes any language that clarifies exactly what the phrase "last month's rent" means. If it says the last month's rent is paid in full by your last month's rent prepayment, or if it says that you owe the balance of the prevailing rent at the time you move out, your question is answered.

If not, you would have a chance of winning a lawsuit in Small Claims Court by proving that your understanding and the owner's intent were for the last month's rent deposit to cover the full amount of the last month's rent no matter what it actually is.

Postema is the editor of Apartment Age magazine, a publication of AAGLA, an apartment owners' service group. E-mail questions to AptlifeAAGLA@aol.com.

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