Can my future landlord break the lease after signing the contract?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Can my future landlord break the lease after signing the contract?

I live in a college town in Washington State, about six weeks ago me and my
roommate signed a contract and paid our security deposit and last months rent.
They called me yesterday claiming they made a mistake and that the current tenant
is staying next semester and that they will refund us in 1-2 weeks. They also
don’t have any additional units to offer us. The problem is other apartments lack
the amenities this one does and most others are more expensive as there is now
less availability for next semester. Normally I wouldn’t care and just find a new
property to rent, but we have several other friends in the same complex that we
specifically wanted to live by. Also the manager conveniently called me after
their business hours yesterday and is out of the office today.

Asked on April 4, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Washington


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 5 years ago | Contributor

A contract (a lease is a contract) binds both parties, so the landlord cannot break the lease (unless the lease itself contained some term or provision allowing the landlord to terminate it early) and is bound to it despite any problems that might cause for the landlord (e.g. a current tenant who does not want to go). Your problem, however, is that the law does not provide compensation for non-monetary losses in contract cases: e.g for not being able to live with friends, or for not finding as generally desirable a location. Since the landlord returned--or is returning--your money (so getting your deposit, etc. back is not an issue), if you were to sue the landlord, all you could get would be the difference in rent between what you would have paid, under this lease, and what you end up paying for a comparable unit. For example: say your share of rent under the lease would have been $500/month. Say that you end up having to pay $600/month for a different comparable unit. In that case, you have been "damaged" by $100/month and could theoretially sue for that--that is the cost you pay due to the breach of contract. 

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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