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Landlord seeks to break lease, leaving tenants in the lurch

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Q: I just watched one of your YouTube videos: Can Landlords Make Tenants Pay if They Break Their Lease?

What if it is the other way around? My landlord gave a termination notice to vacate the rental home on Oct. 23, 2021 for the following reason: “During this Pandemic Era, it has been truly hard on my business to be profitable at renting this property.” He wants to sell it.

Less than three months ago, we recently signed a new lease for May 1, 2021 through April 30, 2022. We have never missed a payment in any given month, but our landlord allowed us to pay in two payments each month. We always send text messages advising on the dates in each month we could pay and to confirm if OK. We always received a yes response until he stopped answering totally about June. However, he has since said he did get the notices and accepted payments each time.

We verbally advised him of our situation: We have no savings, we live paycheck to paycheck, and we have experienced great financial hardship since we lost one of our incomes due to the pandemic. We filed bankruptcy recently, so we can’t qualify to purchase a home right now.

I was hoping we’d have more time to save up by the end of the lease. I was also hoping to find a new job. Nothing I said seemed to move him. He basically said that he has his own financial problems too.

Is there anything we can do to stay in the home? Can we get emergency rental funds from an assistance agency? And should he pay for our moving cost since he asked us to break our lease or any amount toward our move?

He is expecting to continue receiving his rent each month until we leave. He wants to purchase our storage unit that we bought stating it is a requirement that we leave it when departing the residence. He is treating our property as if it is already his. But the unit belongs to us and is in new condition.

Is there anything we can do at this point?

A: We’re not surprised that your landlord says he is done with renting and wants to sell the property. A lot of landlords are finding that now is a good time to sell and either reinvest the proceeds (via an Internal Revenue Service Section 1031 tax deferred exchange, which will help shelter profits) or just cash out.

While you didn’t include your location in your email, home prices have accelerated at a breakneck pace over the past few years. And, especially since the start of the pandemic.

According to the Zillow Home Value Index, home prices rose 16.7% and are expected to rise more than 12% over the next year. Nationally, homes are typically selling for around $300,000, but prices are far higher in places like Las Vegas ($354,000), Boise, Idaho ($506,000), or Aspen, Colorado ($2.28 million).

It’s also possible that your landlord has been offered more money to lease the property by someone else and is regretting signing a year-long lease with you. According to ApartmentList, “the first half of 2021 has seen the fastest growth in rent prices” since the start of their estimates four years ago. Either way, it’s not good news for you, or any other tenants who have locked in lower rental rates.

The answers to your questions can likely be found in your lease agreement. Let’s start with the lease term. You’ve indicated that it’s for a full year, but does the lease give you or your landlord the ability to break the lease or end it early? Is there a penalty built into the lease agreement for doing so?

Often, rental leases will give tenants the right to end the lease early, provided they pay a breakup fee. Or tenants who want to vacate the property will have the right to sublease the property, provided the landlord approves of the new tenant.

It’s likely that your lease contains a provision that permits the landlord to evict you for nonpayment of rent or in the event there is serious damage to the property. For example, if the property catches on fire and burns to the ground, the landlord will have the right to terminate the lease or evict you if you refuse to move.

But if you’re paying on time (and you are not, because you are breaking up your payment into two parts), and the landlord is accepting those payments, and your lease does not permit the landlord to cancel the lease for any reason, then you should be able to stay and may even be protected by local or state laws governing how landlords and tenants interact with each other. The key to your question is whether your semi-monthly payments have been agreed to by the landlord and if accepting them constitutes his agreement to the payment plan.

You need to look at the terms of your lease, and see whether your landlord has the right to kick you to the curb, and under what conditions. You should also read the lease to see if you have the right to renew your lease.

While we don’t know what kind of storage locker you have, if it’s movable and not permanently attached to the apartment, you should be able to take it with you. Even if it was attached to the property, you should be able to remove it and return the property to the condition in which it was provided to you. Our view might be different if the storage locker is more like kitchen cabinets, that are permanently fixed to the wall. In that case, most people would assume it would stay with the property.

As for all of the personal information you shared with the landlord, you were hoping to appeal to his better nature and were surprised that your personal circumstances didn’t move him. He shrugged because it’s not his concern. Your job is to make your monthly payments on time. His job is to cash the check and make sure that the property’s bills (mortgage, taxes, insurance, etc.) are paid.

If you’re having trouble making your payments, then you can look for a rental assistance program in your city or state. Look up “rental assistance” online and add in the city and state in which you live. Follow the links to find out whether you qualify.

If your landlord continues to pressure you to move, you can reach out to a real estate attorney, the state or local department that handles landlord/tenant issues or your local legal aid clinic for help.

Good luck.

(Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (4th Edition). She is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact Ilyce and Sam through their website,

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