What Can You Do When a Tenant Breaks Lease

Author: Todd Christiansen | Category: Eviction

I received this email today from a very frustrated landlord:

We had a tenant who walked on her lease.  She wanted to end her lease early, we told her that we could not do that.  She then said the apartment was making her ill and gave us notice on 12/20 to move out on 1/20.  We told her that her claim was not justified and that she would still be responsible for the lease.  we also said we would try to rent it. 1/1/2012 she left text that she was leaving and would leave rent and paperwork in rent box.  she did not.  what are our options?  we don’t know her fowarding address.  do we file a UD?  thanks

My response to her was probably not what she wanted to hear.  Unfortunately, there is not much a landlord can do when a tenant is determined to break the lease.  You can still file and serve an eviction if the tenant bails and you cannot find them – service is by mail and posting.

A copy of the eviction action summons and complaint gets mailed to the property address (even though you know that are not there), and the process server serves by posting on the property at least 7 days prior to the hearing date (two failed attempts at personal service, then the summons and complaint get posted on the property).  The required affidavits get filed with the court (Affidavit of Not Found, Affidavit of Posting, Affidavit of Mailing, Affidavit of Plaintiff’s Attorney).  This is what is required for service of process in order for the court to have jurisdiction to sign the eviction order when the defendant cannot be found in an eviction action.

Tenants have the right to possession of the property until their rights are terminated by the court – even if they break their lease early.  As such, some landlords will go through eviction process just to make sure the tenant does not come back in a month and say “who is in my property?”  In addition, the eviction will show on the tenant’s record for future landlords.  Ultimately, all this will get you is the satisfaction that she now has an unlawful detainer on her record.  This may help warn other landlords about this tenant (and give you the satisfaction that she will have a harder time in the future finding an apartment).  This is not going to get your apartment rented faster or make you any money.  So, why would you spend $500-$1000?

One other option is to take her to small claims (or conciliation) court.  The cost to file a claim there is cheaper ($70).  If the claim is less than $2500, the court will actually mail a letter to the tenant about the court date.

If you chose to simply move on and re-rent the apartment, you should document all the details about this tenant moving out and breaking the lease.  Write down everything including dates, times and all communication.  Put this into the file along with her application and lease.  Then if this tenant ever comes back to sue you claiming they left possessions in the property or that you actually pushed them out, you have documentation to fight with.

I hate to tell you , but if you are a landlord long enough, you will have a tenant break their lease on you unexpectedly.  It is unfortunate, but there is not much you can do.  My best advice is to simply and quickly get over it and move on.

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