Unless you’re a real estate lawyer, a landlord, or you just like reading over lease documents, the legal terminology in your lease might not be used in your everyday vocabulary. Terms such as buyout clause, sublease, and termination could help you break your lease, if you know how to use the legal jargon to your advantage. Here are a few general terms to help you through your lease.
Buyout Clause: this is a clause in your lease that specifies you can be asked to move out of your apartment for a specific amount of money. There’s usually no way to require you to evacuate your apartment for payment, but sometimes a landlord may become desperate to have your apartment for another use (his or her own tenancy, or a relative or friend’s tenancy), and will ask you to consider being bought out. The practice is somewhat new and questionable, but is becoming more common.
Eviction: the process of removing a tenant from his or her apartment for not having paid rent. Eviction is sometimes also called unlawful detainer. This is a serious legal action with specific steps that a landlord must follow in full, and a court, not the landlord, ultimately decides whether a tenant can be evicted. Know your rights, and if your landlord tries to have you evicted without proper notice or trial, get the law involved on your side.
Liability: the state of being liable, or responsible, for something. You’re generally considered liable for damages or activities that occur in your apartment while you’re living there, unless you can prove an element outside of your control (fire, flood, plumbing mishap) was the culprit. You (not your landlord) are also liable for any injuries that may occur in your apartment while you’re the renter, so consider taking out a renter’s liability insurance policy.
Lockout: this is the term for when a tenant is locked out of his or her apartment unexpectedly. It’s illegal for a landlord to lock a tenant out of his or her own apartment, regardless of the reason—even months and months of unpaid rent. The eviction or unlawful detainer process must be followed as mandated by law. If a court rules that you can be evicted, a local law enforcement official will complete the process, not your landlord, and you’ll be given a specific amount of time in which to move out. If you fail to do so, the landlord should continue to lean on law enforcement, not just change the locks. If you have been locked out of your apartment without an eviction order, you can likewise contact the police to let you back in to recover your belongings. You may also file an illegal lockout complaint or possibly even a lawsuit against your landlord for having locked you out.
Property: this term covers both tangible and intangible space, equipment, or rights that someone is entitled to have or use. Since you don’t technically own your property as a renter, you’re paying for the use of someone else’s property. Always keep this in mind, and don’t treat the property like it’s yours— it isn’t and you’ll pay for misuse later.
Rental Concession: a rental concession is a benefit, like a discounted rent, that landlords offer in order to attract tenants. The term of this concession will usually be identified in your original lease, so make sure you understand for how long you’ll be paying a discounted rent. You don’t want to wake up one morning to an eviction notice because you didn’t know your rent rate was changing. A concession addendum, included in your lease, should specify the term for which your concession lasts, and usually also specifies that you’ll have to pay back the discount you received should you break your lease.
Security Deposit: a sort of “insurance” for landlords, this type of deposit is usually required upon moving into a new property. It’s intended to help ensure that the renter behaves in accordance with the lease terms, since violating the lease terms can cause forfeiture of the deposit.
Sublease: an agreement where you arrange for another individual to take over rental payments on your lease and stay in your apartment, possibly while you live elsewhere. Subleases are often prohibited in lease contracts without prior landlord approval, and you as the official lessor remain responsible for paying rent and accounting for any damages inflicted on the apartment by the party who’s subleasing from you. Keep this in mind when considering a sublease.
Termination: when you signed your apartment lease, you agreed to stay in your apartment for a specific amount of time. If you want to move out early, you can try to get your lease terminated. Work with your landlord to come up with a lease termination agreement that is acceptable to both parties. You’ll probably end up paying some extra money to move out early, but if it’s worth it to you, terminating your lease may be a good option.
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