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Why is My Landlord Being So Unreasonable?

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As a tenant moves out--and loses a big chunk of his deposit--he wants to know why his landlord isn't being more reasonable in the "interpretation" of the lease. But who isn't in awe of this landlord, who is charging the tenant $75 a hour for all the phones calls and paperwork associated with dealing with lease. This guy sounds fairly screwed, but he did sign the lease so the responsibility would seem to fall on him. He writes: "A question for your readers. We terminated our lease early but did all of the legwork to find new tenants so that the owner wouldn’t be at a loss. The upshot is that he (1) returned only 1/3 of our $1,000 security deposit and, (2) charged us for the last month’s rent in full even though we were there only 2 weeks and the new tenants moved in immediately after.

Attached is the statement (after the jump) showing what he took out of our security deposit. The landlord charged us $862.50, minus a $500 “goodwill credit” for the time he needed to process the new tenants. The original lease agreement (an agreement that he drafted himself) includes a paragraph about compensating the owner at “$75/hour, with a minimum of 1 hour, any time owner spends time in the enforcement of this contract including, but not limited to, serving legal notice.” Now charging us for phone calls and picking up applications is just plain petty, and in my opinion, not in the spirit of the agreement which is meant to protect him from losses. He has clearly used this to his gain.

With respect to charging us for the last month’s rent in full, again he went by the letter instead of the spirit of the law. We verbally informed him that we would like to terminate our lease dependent on our ability to find him a new tenant. This happened to be 45 days before our move-out date. By the time we found new tenants, things moved swiftly because we were squeezed by our new potential landlord, and the new tenants were squeezed by their own situation. So final notice was given only 3 weeks ahead of time, again verbally. It was our mistake for not putting our intent in writing because everything was so dependent of getting a new tenant. Again, he came out ahead.

Do we have any rights in this situation? Like I said, all of his claims seem to be by the letter of the law. We went out of our way to make sure that we both came out even. Whatever happened to being reasonable?

We’re now poring over the California Tenants handbook (something we should have done ahead of time!) and found that the lease agreement must contain a Lead Warning Statement if the unit was constructed before 1978, which it was. Our agreement doesn’t contain this language. Is this enough to invalidate the lease?

Finally, is there some statute of limitations after which we can no longer make any claim?

Thanks for your help!