Rent it Right
For example, Washington allows landlords to collect their "actual costs" of finding a new tenant (see Washington Revised Statute Section 59.18.310). Arizona effectively allows the same thing, by declaring that the security deposit of a tenant who abandons the rental is forfeited, to be applied to "any accrued rent and other reasonable costs incurred by the landlord by reason of the tenant's abandonment" (see: Arizona Revised Statute, Section 33-1370).
Some states simply don't address the issue. Others give vague directions: For example, California allows landlords to recover from the tenant, in addition to lost rent, compensation for "all the detriment" caused by the tenant's breach (see: California Civil Code Section 1951.2).
So, whether your landlord can stick you with re-renting costs will depend on your state's law on the subject. If there is no clear answer, you might try arguing against having to pay those costs this way: The landlord would have incurred re-renting costs had you stayed until the end of the lease term, and you certainly would not have been responsible for them at that time.
Why should you pay now, simply because the costs are hitting several months earlier? To say that it's part of your punishment for breaking the lease without justification won't fly. People who back out of contracts are expected to pay for the actual damages they cause, not to pay penalties.
But that's not to say that your early departure did not cause damages besides the loss of the rent. There is a fair way to measure your landlord's damages: His early re-renting efforts meant that he spent money several months earlier than he had planned. For those months, the money he had to lay out was not in his bank account, earning interest.
That lost interest is a true measure of his damages. In addition, he's had to devote staff and personal time to a chore that he expected would arrive later; he may be able to put a reasonable monetary figure on the value of postponing what he and the staff would otherwise have been doing.
Taken together, these are the landlord's true damages caused by having to find a new tenant sooner.
Janet Portman is an attorney and managing editor at Nolo. She specializes in landlord/tenant law and is co-author of "Every Landlord's Legal Guide" and "Every Tenant's Legal Guide." She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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