Do I have to pay the rent for the rest of my lease if I broke it due to no A/C?

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Do I have to pay the rent for the rest of my lease if I broke it due to no A/C?

We broke our lease 7 months into it for many reasons. The biggest being the air conditioner kept breaking down and the house stayed about 83 degrees or more. We moved out, but in the middle we went out of town. We were going to come back and finish cleaning the house up. They found out that we were moving and said that we had abandoned the property and told us that if we did not pay rent by midnight the 5th (the day it was late) they would throw anything we had left in the house out by the road and change the locks. Then they moved in the 6th. Now they are suing us for the rest of the lease.

Asked on November 3, 2010 under Real Estate Law, Tennessee

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

1) All leases have an implied warranty of habitability, which means that a rented premises must be safely inhabitable. A lack of A/C might constitute a violation of this; similarly, if you rented a premises that had A/C when you rented it, non-working A/C could be a violation of the lease itself (not getting what you paid for).

The problem is, in either case, simply moving out and breaking the lease is not usually the correct resolution, at least not for issues that don't (for habitability) pose an immediate or severe threat to health and safety--and 83 degrees would not seem to do so--or  which are a core violation of material (important) term of the lease--and a frequently broken A/C probably is not.

Instead, the proper mechanism is to first give the landlord written notice of the problem and a chance to fix it; and if the landlord does not, to bring a legal action to compel repair and/or get monetary compensation. In other words, the A/C problem may not have provided grounds to terminate the lease without penalty; and even if it might have, you still would have needed to go about doing it the right way, such as with proper notice to the landlord and a chance to cure it.

2) If you did not have grounds to terminate the lease safely, then yes--the landlord may hold you liable for the full term of the lease and can sue you if necessary.

3) A tenant does not have to reside in a property to rent it--unless the lease specifically says they must. Otherwise, if were paid up at the time you "abandoned" the property, moving out had no legal effect. As long as you honored lease committments, including especially paying rent, you were not in default--though if you stopped paying rent without the proper legal grounds, you were in violation.

4) Even if you did  default or were evicted, the landlord can't simply throw away your belongings. Also, even if you were in default, they can't simply change the locks, but must go through the proper legal eviction process.

This is a complicated matter. Unless you're simply prepared to pay the remaining rent, you should retain an attorney to help you.


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