Can landlord keep part of security deposit JUST for breaking the lease?

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Topic: Can landlord keep part of security deposit JUST for breaking the lease?

Real Estate October 11, 2012 at 4:35 pm

Can landlord keep part of security deposit JUST for breaking the lease?

It is stated in the signed lease agreement:
“Owner may keep all or part of the security deposit for: Moving prior to the completion of the term of this lease.”  (among other things)
I read up on that fees are allowed for breaking leases unless prohibited by the state law.  I looked up DC housing regulations (Title 14) and don’t see a restriction anywhere on fees for breaking lease.  It describes how the security deposit must be returned within 30 days of notification that some of the deposit is being withheld and that must provide an itemized list of the amounts that are not being returned. 
Is this legal because it is stated in the lease and the DC law does not state that it is NOT allowed? 

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I am no lawyer, but you signed a contract in which you agreed that the landlord could keep part of your security deposit for breaking the lease. You broke your lease and now the landlord is keeping part of your deposit. And then you realized that you can find no evidence that this is illegal. I am trying to be nice, but are you seriously asking this question? Is this a joke?

Probably legal, but why not offer to do the legwork to find your landlord a new tenant, in exchange for no break-lease fee?  Doesn’t always work, but it often does.

If the landlord rents out the apartment immediately it is more dubious because it is illegal to charge rent to two parties for the same time period. But if the apartment goes unrented the landlord could easily just take that money out of your security deposit. If you find a new renter that satisfies the landlord you are a lot more likely to keep your money.

I’m not a lawyer either but I think it’s definitely legal. As you said, the law does not include “fees for breaking the lease” as an illegal clause. Plus, I’ve seen both break-lease fees and seen rental companies talk about imposing them before in DC.
Remember, you’re technically on the hook for the remainder of your lease if you decide to break it early as you signed the contract for that specific length of time. Does DC have a law which requires that the landlord look for a new tenant if you vacate the property before the end of the contract? If not, they could just let the unit sit empty and take you to court for the remaining payments which could be thousands depending on your rent and the time left… (some places have that law, others don’t – i honestly don’t know if DC does or not).
The few times I’ve considered/had to break a lease early, I’ve followed mcmegan’s policy of trying to talk about it with the landlord in advance and work with them to reach an agreement that’s good for both of us. The first time in moving from WI to DC, my WI place was willing to let me out early if I could find a new tenant to sign a new 1-yr lease. I posted it to craigslists, answered questions/took phonecalls on my cell, did showings/open houses, and even offered my own rent concession out-of-pocket. It was a pain to juggle on top of packing/cleaning to move but I got it rented with only having to pay for 2 extra weeks rather than 8 months. The second time with a job offer in NYC, my DC place was going to charge a break-lease fee of 3x the rent to let me out early in addition to me having to pay until it re-rented for another 1-yr lease/my lease expired. They wouldn’t waive that fee regardless of whether I found a new renter for them or not. In that case, I choose to stick it out and pass on the NYC job as I didn’t want to pay that large of a fee and do all the work.
But you really never know until you talk to your landlord – hopefully they’ll be willing to work with you to reach an agreement that works for both of you. My only other adivce if you get stuck in a pay until new renter signs situation – at a minimum take responsibility for posting it. Take good photos, measurements are always a huge plus, put an ad up every day on Craigslist, etc. Even if the landlord is supposed to do it, that ensures that you get info out frequently and increases the chances that someone will see/rent it sooner.

The landlord is required to make a good faith effort in finding a new tenant.  If they do not, they cannot keep your deposit.  However, if they make an effort but do not find a suitable renter, they can keep the deposit.

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