Help! I’m Breaking My Lease


I have six months left on my lease (I live in D.C.), and I just have to move for personal reasons. I notified the landlord (an individual, not a corporation) two weeks ahead of time (not far enough, I know, but I was only sure about the move then). My rent covers until the end of November, and I moved out one week ahead of time. The apartment was professionally cleaned (I paid by check), and ready for someone to move in. There is no early-release clause in my lease. We have had an excellent relationship with the landlord. Even when we were arguing about breaking the lease, he said that he would have loved for us to rent here “forever.”

The landlord’s side: He was upset about it since he just bought a house and he can’t pay two mortgages. I offered to pay December’s rent, and also let him keep the deposit, which is worth one month’s rent. That is one-third of the remaining lease. And he refuses. He keeps saying he had to hire his people to make the place brand new, and that eats into the deposit. But I know that by law, you can’t deduct wear-and-tear fixes (such as cleaning the oven, replacing stove top metal thing-y, steaming the carpet) from the deposit.

The apartment is right in front of the metro and in a very safe, walkable area. During the one week that we listed the apartment on Craigslist, we’ve had three people come to see the apartment, so I think the buy-out offer I gave him is a fair one.

What can I do here? Of course, I understand this is not legal advice, I just think that this must happen to people, and someone might have good tips to share. — T.

It sounds like your offer to pay December’s rent while you’re not living there and allowing your landlord to keep your one month deposit while he finds replacement tenants for a mid-December or January move-in seems reasonable. What’s unclear to me in your letter is why he finds this offer unreasonable, and what he would consider a reasonable offer. Does he want you to pay for the steam cleaning and stovetop replacements so that he doesn’t have to deduct that from the deposit? If so, it might be worth it to do that so that this doesn’t become a long drawn-out ordeal

I lived in D.C. for less than a year, and am by no means an expert on rental agreements, but there are tenant advocates that you can reach out to you to offer more specific advice: The Office of the Tenant Advocate is the place you should go, though when it comes to breaking a lease, they may ask you to seek the help of a lawyer.

I’ve never broken a lease (my landlords have generally been the kinds who have been okay with me moving out as long as I give a month’s notice), but perhaps there are others here who can offer more naunced advice.

Photo: Jason Dean

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