If I signed a 5-month contract for an apartment but then changed my mind about staying there, can the landlord still charge me for the 5-months?

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If I signed a 5-month contract for an apartment but then changed my mind about staying there, can the landlord still charge me for the 5-months?

I signed a 5-month contract for an apartment thinking I’ll need to stay there for college purposes but then circumstances changed and I will no longer need to stay in that apartment. The landlord called me and told me that even if I’m not staying and living in his apartment I will still have to pay the 5 months worth of rent. Can he sue me of take and kind of legal action if I refuse to pay the rent since I didn’t spend a single night there.

Asked on January 11, 2012 under Real Estate Law, New York

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

The lease is a contract between landlord and tenant.  By signing the lease, you are liable for the rent, but only until the apartment is re-rented.   Once the apartment is re-rented, your obligation to pay rent for the balance of the term of the lease ends. The landlord cannot allow the apartment to remain vacant and must make reasonable efforts to find another tenant.  Reasonable efforts to find another tenant would be determined by what other landlords in the area are doing to attract tenants such as posting a vacancy sign on the premises, advertising in the newspaper, advertising in a local rental guide, etc.  The landlord is required to mitigate (minimize) damages by making reasonable efforts to find another tenant.  If the landlord does not make reasonable efforts to find another tenant, the landlord has failed to mitigate damages and the landlord's damages (the amount of compensation the landlord is seeking in a lawsuit against you) will be reduced accordingly.

If the landlord finds another tenant, but charges that tenant less rent than you were charged, you would remain liable for the difference in rent for the balance of the term of your lease; however, the landlord has to have a valid reason to justify charging the new tenant lower rent such as market conditions; otherwise, the landlord has failed to mitigate damages and the landlord's damages will be reduced accordingly.


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