We built Caretaker to make renting easier. To that end, we created a comprehensive guide to U.S. rental law to educate tenants and landlords about their rights and responsibilities. Now, we’re introducing Ask Caretaker: an ongoing series where we answer reader questions.

My cousin gave me $350 and asked if I would let a woman and her daughter stay with me for a month until she found a place to live. I said yes—I didn't want her to go into the woods. My wife had just passed, and I was still grieving. Now the woman has no money for rent. She's been eating all my food, I'm paying for everything, the house is being destroyed. Now she tells me she can do whatever she wants and that she's not leaving. She has no money for the second month of rent. She's not even supposed to be here now, after the first month. She acts like she owns the place. She even started trying to get mail in my mailbox, but I went to the mailman and to the post office and they put a stop to it. What can I do? She needs to get out.

- Deland, Florida

If you accepted rent, then technically she is a subletter with a verbal, month-to-month lease. You could start by giving her 15 days’ notice (in writing) that you’re terminating her month-to-month lease, as required by Florida law—but from the way you described the situation, it seems like that might not be forceful enough to get her to actually leave. If she hasn’t left after 15 days, you can evict her for one of two reasons:

  • She hasn't paid rent.
  • She's stayed past the end date of her lease, thus violating the rental agreement.

Since you want her to leave—not pay rent and continue to live with you—your best bet is to serve her with a seven-day notice to cure because of a violation of the rental agreement. The violation, in this case, is staying past the end date of her lease. She has a week to “cure” (or “fix”) the violation by moving out of your house. Hopefully, serving her notice may spur her to leave before you actually have to go to court—but if not, you should be familiar with the process for evicting a subtenant in Florida.

I want to end my lease because the elevator breaks down too much. I am wheelchair-bound, but my landlord refuses to end my lease.

- Pembroke Pines, Florida

As a renter with a disability, you’re entitled by law to request reasonable changes to your landlord’s policies—as long as they’re necessary for you to use your apartment in the same way as your neighbors. These are legally referred to as “accommodation requests.” In this case, you would request that your landlord allow you to break your lease early, without a termination fee. This request is reasonable because you're no longer able to enjoy your rental equally due to the constantly-broken elevator.

I'd also suggest you reach out to a local tenants’ rights group or attorney that offers free consultations. You could also consider reaching out to a local fair housing agency for assistance—here's a list of Florida agencies who can help. If your landlord refuses to work with you, this could potentially be a violation of your rights under the Fair Housing Act.

I signed a lease and paid one and half months’ rent as a deposit before the new rental laws were passed in New York. Upon renewal, my landlord raised the rent. Now, he’s requesting additional money to keep the deposit at the equivalent of 1.5 months’ rent. Is that allowed?

- Queens, New York

No! That's illegal. If you're signing a new lease (which you are, because you're renewing), then the laws passed in July 2019 apply. Your security deposit is limited to one month's rent anywhere in New York. Your landlord should be returning the extra half month's rent, in fact.

You should explain all of this to your landlord, in writing, so there's a record of your conversation. You should reference the relevant law (General Obligations Law §7-108) in your note—and, if you want to be extra thorough, you could even throw in this guidance from the New York Department of State that includes a thorough FAQ.

Someone is smoking some very strong weed (or God knows what) in the building where I live. It comes through the vents of my bathroom and the smell is affecting the whole apartment. I have a one-year-old, and a few minutes after the smell starts, he will start hitting himself in the head, pulling his hair, and screaming like crazy. I have been woken up by the smell and have been dizzy and nauseous. It’s affecting all of my family. The landlord has been notified, but since they don't know where it's coming from, there's not much they could do. Can I terminate the lease without penalty so I can rent somewhere else?

- Austin, Texas

In general, it’s pretty hard to break your lease without your landlord’s approval. However, what you’re describing may be a breach of something called the “warranty of habitability”—which would be illegal under Texas law. Unlike many states, Texas actually allows a tenant to automatically end a lease when a landlord has failed to keep the rental unit in good shape. If a landlord doesn’t make the necessary repairs within a reasonable period of time—typically seven days in Texas—a tenant can legally move out and stop paying rent.

But to break your lease, you must follow the process laid out by the law. You should get in touch with your landlord again (in writing) and see if there's any other solution they can offer—perhaps they could insert a filter into the bathroom vents to cut down on the smoke? Mention in your letter that the smoke is making your apartment uninhabitable, and cite Texas Property Code § 92.052 (which is where Texas’ warranty of habitability can be found).

At this point, your landlord might be more willing to negotiate ending your lease early, since it's clear you're going to fight for your right to a habitable apartment. But if they're still unwilling to deal with the issue, now you’re on stronger legal footing if you do decide to move out. That said, breaking your lease this way is a complicated issue, so I'd recommend contacting a local tenants’ rights group before you actually vacate the apartment.

I signed a lease and want to break it. However, it has nothing in writing on the lease about lease break fees, other than a 30-day notice. Nothing about negotiation or mediation, either. So what do you think are my options?

- Norfolk, Virginia

Many leases (probably even most) don't include information about how much an early termination fee would be—you just have to talk to the landlord to find out more about their process for breaking a lease early. So, get in touch with your landlord and ask what process they would like you to follow if you need to end your lease on a particular date. Once you understand their terms, then you can try and negotiate.

I lost my job, left my apartment and didn’t pay. But now I have a new job and I want to get another apartment. Will abandoning my old apartment show up on my background check?

- Federal Way, Washington

It depends on whether your landlord formally evicted you, or if they reported your unpaid rent to a collections agency. If they did either of those things, then the abanonment will most likely show up on your credit report or rental history (or both). You can request a free copy of your credit report to check, if you'd like.

But even if there's no official record of your unpaid rent, rental histories often include addresses of previous rentals and contact information for the landlords/property managers. So there's a chance a potential landlord will simply call up your previous landlord and ask what kind of tenant you were. This may make it more difficult for you to find a new apartment. Your best bet is probably to focus on renting from smaller landlords, who sometimes do less intensive background checks than larger management companies.

I rented my flat in San Francisco to a young couple for a year. The lease is due on July 31st, 2020. They broke the lease due to COVID-19 and being laid off. The tenants left on April 1, 2020. Given that they had two young kids, half of their deposit was given back to them on April 1st. The other half I wanted to wait until I inspected my flat and see if there were any damages to my flat that needed to be fixed. I have to fix two major parts of the wooden floors. I have notified them and shared with them the estimate for fixing the floors.

My question is this: given that I had to pay my rent in New York where I was supposed to be for the year and the mortgage payment in San Francisco, plus all of my travel expenses coming back from New York, including hotels, etc. can a minimum amount be deducted from the second half of the tenants’ security deposit?

- San Francisco, California

In California, you can only deduct from the security deposit for three reasons:

  • Damage caused by the tenant
  • Rent not paid by the tenant
  • A cleaning fee that will restore the property to the state it was in at the time of rental

Your personal costs in dealing with this issue aren’t covered—sorry!

My mother signed a lease in February 2020 for one year. They had me sign as a guarantor. She is 82 years old, her health has declined and she can not live alone. She is moving to a nursing home. Can I terminate the lease early, without too much cost?

- San Ramon, California

Unfortunately, California (unlike some other states, like New York or New Jersey) doesn't allow senior citizens to automatically break their lease to move into a nursing home. Instead, you should contact her landlord and see if you can work out a friendly deal. You'll want to make a strong case for ending her lease early, including a doctor's note if you can.

If her landlord refuses to cooperate, you could also check to see if fair housing laws apply in your situation. If your mother’s health condition could be considered a disability under the federal Fair Housing Act, then she may have legal backing to end her lease early.

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.


Abigail Cain

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