When 'carelessness' justifies lease termination

Rent it Right

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Aug. 26, 2011

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It would have been nice, for example, to require purchasers to submit a sworn declaration stating their intentions; and for the law to provide for consequences should they renege (for example, they could be on the hook for the tenant's relocation expenses, plus any differential in rent, if replacement housing was more expensive).

A sworn statement would also give the new owners a place to explain any intentions to perform remodeling or renovations, which would shield them from liability for failing to move in immediately.

You're reporting a situation that involved not delayed occupancy, but no occupancy at all. The new buyers may have genuinely planned to move in and changed their minds, or they may have lied to you, planning all along to rerent at a higher rate. You won't know until you ask, and they're not likely to tell you unless they're forced to in a lawsuit.

You'll need the help of a lawyer if you want to go after these folks. Your state's laws may give you more detailed protection than the federal law. And the federal law's failure to list specific consequences for noncompliance won't necessarily stop an imaginative lawyer from coming up with a theory (perhaps fraud) on which to hang a lawsuit.

Before hightailing it off to the nearest lawyer, however, think for a moment about how having to move has affected you financially. How much could you ask for in damages? Besides moving expenses, did you end up with a higher rent, in a less desirable neighborhood? How disruptive was the move in terms of schooling, your commute, and so on?

Even if the damages are not particularly high, you may get a judge to award punitive damages, which are assessed when a defendant's behavior was particularly egregious. But that will likely happen only if the owners were scheming all along. If they simply changed their minds, punishment may not be in order.

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 janet@inman.com.

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