I moved out of my home I was renting back in March 2009 reason being my ex-husband and I were getting divorced and I could not afford to stay there on my own. I notified the landlord and she came by the home we talked and she looked around and let me know she would let me out of the lease if I paid her an additional month. I told her I couldnt afford that but she could keep my 2 month security deposit. She toke pictures and stated she was going to go ahead and re-list for rent and even had to put up a For Rent sign in the window and show the place to a few people before we moved out. Now a year and a half later she is trying to sue me and my ex-husband for the remainder of the lease and saw where she listed the property for sale as soon as we moved out. Why so late? Can she do that?
Real Estate Attorney
If your rental was based on a written lease agreement, the statute of limitation for damages, unpaid rents and other charges runs for five years from the date of default. In this instance, when you moved and stopped paying rent, the default could be said to accrue, so suing within a year and a half is permissible. However, the analysis does not end there. There are at least two possible defenses, one related to the statements made to you before you vacated and one relating to the landlord’s conduct after you vacated.
The first possible defense is tied directly to what was said by the landlord when she came to inspect the property. It is possible that she agreed to accept the offer of keeping the two months security deposit and letting you out of the lease. This is a difficult defense to prevail on because it is tied mostly to verbal statements in a private conversation with few, if any, witnesses and the judge will have to decide which of the two parties is more credible. However, the landlord was supposed to send you a notice of intention to impose a claim against your security deposit, and if she failed to do so you may have a claim for a return of the deposit, or you may be able to use that to establish that the landlord agreed to your proposal and therefore saw no need to give you notice of her claim on the deposit. Still, this defense will rely upon the verbal statements made by the landlord and the credibility of the landlord and you as witnesses. However the lack of a notice for a claim against the deposit may tilt things in your favor on this defense.
The second possible defense arises out of two possibly contradictory statements of fact above that may make a difference. You indicated that the landlord told you she was going to try to rent the place out and even placed a sign in the window brought some prospective tenants to the property before you moved out. Up to this point the landlord was acting within her rights and was handling the situation properly. Then it seems that the landlord stopped trying to rent the premises at some point and listed it for sale. It is this change that may give rise to a defense that the landlord did not hold the premises out as available for rent after you vacated. For a landlord to pursue ongoing rent of residential premises for the balance of the lease term, it must take reasonable steps to try to re-lease the premises. An argument could be made that the landlord stopped taking reasonable efforts when the property was listed for sale and rental efforts were apparently abandoned. This is a possible defense but is going to be very fact specific. You should immediately put together a chronology of everything that you recall relative to the rental efforts and the listing efforts, and try to secure a copy of the listing when the property was put on the market for sale (the listing could say that it was available for a lease purchase which would support the landlord’s position in this instance), then you should sit with a real estate attorney who handles landlord tenant matters in your jurisdiction to see if the facts bear out this defense.
The foregoing was offered solely for informational purposes. It does not constitute legal advice as the facts presented are limited and unstated facts will likely impact your particular situation. Nor does it create an attorney client relationship. If you found the response helpful, please check the thumbs-up box below.