Your tenant is dead wrong. For the most part, a written agreement cannot be modified orally - especially when the parties disagree on the oral amendment. Your tenants are on the hook for the entire term of the lease period, but you must exercise reasonable diligence in re-renting the property. If sound business judgment dictates that discounting the rent will bring in the most money, then your former tenant is on the hook for the difference in what he agreed to pay and what your new tenant is paying. You may use the entire deposit to offset you claim for unpaid rent.
A verbal early termination agreement would not be enforceable. It would not constitute a waiver of your right to sue the tenant for breach of lease by the early termination. How you respond is really a business decision. Do you really want to get sued, and then have to bring a cross-complaint (or a Defendant's Claim if in small claims court)? How collectible would a judgment be against these former tenants?
Frank W. Chen has been licensed to practice law in California since 1988. The information presented here is general in nature and is not intended, nor should be construed, as legal advice for a particular case. This Avvo.com posting does not create any attorney-client relationship with the author. For specific advice about your particular situation, please consult with your own attorney.
The tenant is wrong. They owe the full amount of the rent due under the lease. You also have an obligation to try and get new tenants as soon as possible. If you do, then the old tenants' responsibility ends at that point. You are allowed to apply the deposit to unpaid rents.
Hold onto the deposit, and try to rent the unit. If you get it rented quickly, then you can decide if it is worth it to go after any unpaid amounts.
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