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TerpGirl

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Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #1 
I would like to hear from those who've been through this, or even better, lawyers who know how this works!

Our Virginia tenants are halfway through a year-long lease. They suddenly decided they want to break the lease and move into another property that supposedly will let them sign a several-year lease. We only did one year because we intend to sell the house after the lease is up. It was our primary residence, the sale fell through, so we decided to lease it for a year to recoup some costs and then sell it. They knew all of this going in and that we might not want to lease for a second year.

They are legally responsible for the rent through the end of the lease but are trying to get us to accept the 2-month security deposit as final payment and let them off the hook. We said no and demonstrated that, if the house were not able to be sublet, our losses would exceed $11,000 for the lost rent, utilities and maintenance we would have to take on, and especially the far higher cost for insurance for a vacant house.

I read something that indicated that, because tenants are responsible for utilities for the term of the lease, they could still be required to pay them until the lease term ends if the house is not sublet. I can't find a specific provision in the Virginia code, and we are not truly bound by the VRLTA because it is our personal single family home and our only rental unit. It does not seem fair that a landlord would get stuck with those costs when a tenant in this situation has no legal right to break the lease and we are not allowing them to do so by requiring they pay the rent until a tenant is found (which will be unlikely; it's a huge house and only someone building a house or new to the area would want a short-term lease).

Can we legally require them to pay for the utilities (it would be electric, lawn care, and the administrative cost to have a water/sewer account, since we'd turn off the water)? Can we deduct from their deposit the difference in the insurance premium (it is specifically a policy for it being an occupied rental and would have to be changed to a vacant home policy) if it remains vacant? If I have to pay a lawyer to advise us on this and other issues resulting from the tenant trying to break the lease, can we recoup that cost as well? Even with them having to pay the rent, we are looking at up to $3,000 of losses as a direct result of them trying to break the lease without cause, and whatever we legally can recoup from them, we intend to. We're not trying to be punitive, but it will literally cost us thousands if the house is vacant for almost 6 months.

We will have ads placed in at least a dozen places online for the sublet and will be doing more than what is required by law because we do not want the house to be vacant. They will also be required to actively try to find someone to take their place.

They believe they are trying to help us because now we can list the house for sale, but it was listed at this time last year and the sale fell through in late September. Houses of this size are hard to sell this late and we're about to put my father-in-law's house on the market (2.5 hours away) because he is going into assisted living and is in stage 3 cancer. We have NO desire, intention, or ability, to put the house on the market until spring and we have repeatedly told them this. We told them we have no desire to break the lease, period. We need a reliable tenant through mid-February.

I'd appreciate any input from others who've been there. Thanks!!
LLinVA

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Posts: 393
Reply with quote  #2 
How long does it have to sit empty to be considered vacant by the insurance company and charged higher insurance? I can't imagine this happens very quickly since it isn't uncommon for homes to take some time to make repairs and re-lease.

I don't think you can go after them for those sorts of lawyer fees since you are choosing to do that, it isn't a legal fee associated with an eviction. I think that would be closer to using an attorney to make a lease for you, it's just a cost of doing business as a landlord.

You choosing to wait until spring to list the house is your choice. That's not their fault. You can list it now and see how it goes, you may sell it for a great price and be happy they left early. Just because one sale last year fell through doesn't mean you can't sell a big house in the late summer.

What does the lease say about an early termination? The lease often specifies a penalty of two months' rent or something along those lines. If they are fine with that, there's nothing you can do because they are in accordance with the lease that you signed (and presumably picked out and offered to them) and wouldn't even be responsible for any further rent or utilities (although, some utilities may go after them if they signed a contract and don't move the service with them).

What area of VA is this in?
TerpGirl

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Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #3 
I believe we have to update the policy after the house has been vacant for 30 days. 

We would not be listing the house for sale now if they were not breaking the lease, and their breaking the lease does not obligate us in ANY way to do so. It only obligates us to make a reasonable effort to find replacement tenants. We will be doing well beyond that, with ads placed on a minimum of 12 sites. It presents an undue burden on us to try to sell the house and we are not going to take that on because our tenants do not understand their legal obligations. They were advised BEFORE signing the lease that we would be listing the house next spring and we also guaranteed them we would not list it sooner or sell the house out from under them. That aspect of the topic is irrelevant to whether we can recoup losses for them breaking the lease. We cannot be forced to sell the house because they broke the lease.

If we have to hire a lawyer because they are breaking the lease, it is possible they would have to reimburse us that cost. A lawyer on a legal advice site just told me we can file in small claims court for all losses associated with their breaking the lease, including legal fees.

The lease is a standard Virginia Realtor's Association residential lease. The only clause referring to early termination is for active military and domestic abuse, so Virginia law making them responsible for full payment of the rent applies. It does not clarify utilities or other losses but seems to make room for it.
LLinVA

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Posts: 393
Reply with quote  #4 
"...their breaking the lease does not obligate us in ANY way to do so." I know, I'm not saying it does. But you still should. There's no reason not to. If it sells, that could make all this a blessing instead of a disaster and would fix every problem involved here. No one is trying to force you to, but you are presenting it as if it's not even an option simply because you planned to do it in the spring. It is an option. In fact, it may be the best option by far. You choosing not to pursue that option (possibly along with trying to rent it at the same time and seeing which one works out first) costs you nothing and could be the very best outcome since you want to sell the place anyway. At the very least, have a realtor come out to it and talk it over with them. Having more information at your fingertips will only help you make a better decision.

As far as the attorney telling you the tenant may be liable for legal fees may be true, but you specifically asked about "If I have to pay a lawyer to advise us on this and other issues resulting from the tenant trying to break the lease" which isn't exactly the same and may not fall under that umbrella. It may, but it may not. 

Keep in mind, even if you can sue for all of this and win in court, that doesn't mean you will ever see one single penny of the money you are owed. In most cases like this, the people never pay anything, you send it to collections, and you still don't see anything (or at least nothing compared to what you're owed). So it is usually best to get over it and move on with whatever option is best from today looking forward, no matter what happened in the past to get you to the current circumstances. Now, if these people have great credit and are the more responsible type, they may not want to go to court or have this stuff on their credit report. That may be enough to get them to stay or at least pay. It depends on them. 

Are the tenants definitely leaving, or are they wanting to?

What area is the house in?
TerpGirl

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #5 
"There's no reason not to."

As I explained in my initial post, my father-in-law has stage 3 cancer. He is about to move into assisted living and we have to sell his home and liquidate the contents; it is 2.5 hours away. We do not know his prognosis but it isn't good and he may only be around for a few more months. That alone is reason not to. My husband is facing the loss of his last surviving parent and trying to sell two homes at once is a burden we are simply not going to undertake. The fact that we'd be using realtors who'd handle much of it is irrelevant. These are personal reasons and we are not seeking anyone's opinion on that aspect. Please, stop.

The tenants have poor credit and we only accepted them because he has a high-profiile, public-facing job and they offered 2x the requested security deposit. The deposit is sufficient to cover any damages the law provides for, and the husband acknowledged yesterday, "I know we are responsible for the rent for the remainder of the lease." Just the idea they might have a claim in court, which could hurt them in renting in the future, and cause trouble with his 7-month-old job, would be enough to ensure they pay. We also would not let them vacate without signing a document acknowledging their responsibility to pay the rent. If they simply moved out, we'd immediately sue. They do not want to incur that risk, I am sure of it.

The house is in central Virginia.
TerpGirl

Registered:
Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #6 
The tenants tried to give notice via a chatty email, asking to be let out of the lease with 45 days' notice so they could move at the end of August but pay through mid-September. We did not accept that and told them they would be responsible for the full rent if it could not be sublet. They tried to get us to accept the security deposit instead, and we said no. They have not given us a final decision but we are trying to make sure all parties know of the potential losses if they move forward and no replacement tenant is found. So it is not yet official.
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