If my landlord is annoying, can I get out of the lease?
Just because the property manager is causing your stomach to twist into knots doesn't mean you can breach your contract. Or can you?
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Great. Now that you've already moved in — lease signed and sealed — the landlord starts acting nutty.
He stops by. He asks too many questions. He knows when you leave the lights on, where you leave your shoes and who you're dating. Or, worse, it turns out he has a criminal record.
Is it too late to get out? Is a crazy landlord, or one with an undisclosed past, grounds to break the lease without penalty? (Bing: Find tenant-advocacy help )
Depends. First, the matter of the annoying landlord.
Problem: An annoying landlord
Here are the basic guidelines:
1. The landlord's behavior must either violate the terms of the lease or threaten the safety, health or quiet enjoyment of the property that is afforded to all tenants.
The operative term here is "quiet enjoyment."
A landlord who is overly controlling or personally invasive could be violating that implicit right. Is he making unreasonable demands that aren't spelled out in the lease? Is he harassing you? Is he making your home life too stressful?
As a renter, you have the right to possess the property without interference.
"Any time the landlord is making it unlivable, you can break the lease," said Stephen R. Kellman, a tenant lawyer in San Diego.
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2. You must give the landlord an opportunity to correct the behavior.
This should be done in writing. If asking him hasn't worked, write a letter or email that includes examples of the behavior and a request to stop. You can add that it is interfering with your quiet enjoyment of the property. Adopt a businesslike tone, and keep emotion out of it.
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"You have to account for misunderstandings and miscommunications, give everyone a good-faith effort to resolve it," Kellman said.
3. Finally, you must formally document your intent to break the lease. You can't just move or stop paying rent. Get a professional — a tenant advocate or housing lawyer —to draft the letter.
"Landlord harassment is a common reason for wanting to get out of the lease, where the landlord just won't leave the tenant alone," Kellman said. "But it needs to be well-documented."
Keep a written log, with dates of the landlord's behavior and of your requests to the landlord to end that behavior.
Problem: A landlord with a sketchy past
Now, the issue of a landlord's undisclosed criminal record. We come by this question from an MSN Real Estate reader.
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This reader asked whether she could extricate herself from her lease on the grounds that the landlord did not originally disclose that he was a convicted sex offender. He didn’t tell her until six months after she moved in.
We put the question to housing lawyer Michael Santicola, of Sainovich, Santicola & Steele, in Pennsylvania.
The tenant could make a case only if the landlord had violated the law. Otherwise, even assuming the landlord lives nearby, his criminal history has no bearing on the lease, which is a civil agreement between two private parties.
All 50 states have sex-offender registration laws. But those laws require only that convicted sex offenders register their address with police. In some areas, parole terms may prohibit a sex offender from living near a school or park where children play in groups.
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Let's assume that the landlord lives nearby, or in the building, and that the concerned tenant has children. Santicola thinks the tenant would likely have a case only if a judge had ordered the landlord not to rent to children.
In general, if a tenant is concerned about living near sex offenders, it is her duty to research the landlord's history prior to signing a lease. Many jurisdictions publicly disclose the addresses of high-risk sex offenders.
"You have the right to investigate whomever you rent from, just like they have the right to investigate you," Santicola said.
Start with a call to the local police department to ask what information is available. Be warned that some private, online offender maps are not up-to-date and may falsely list former addresses of sex offenders.
For complete civil and criminal records from your jurisdiction, seek help at the county courthouse.