Breaking a lease - any advice on a bad situation?

Okay, here’s the deal. I’m going into the Peace Corps. I was set to leave in early August. My apartment lease ended on June 30, but I am a good renter and all that stuff, so it was easy enough to explain the situation and extend the lease an extra month. I intended to leave my apartment at the end of July, go back to California to spend a week with my family, and then go off to Asia.

Well, that’s not happening. Thanks to my gimpy back, I couldn’t get my medical clearance in time. I’m still planning on going, but I have no idea when my departure date will be. It depends on when the doctors decide I’m medically fit and what’s available at that time, so everything is up in the air.

Back to my apartment. My lease is now up in three weeks. I called my apartment people and, forgetting to be stealthy, explained the whole situation. Apartment lady isn’t particularly sympathetic to my problems and tells me the shortest lease I can sign is six months. It’s possible the Peace Corps won’t have me shipped out by March, but I doubt it. I’d have to break my lease. Now, the deposit they’re holding for me is quite small and I wouldn’t mind taking it as a loss, and I can’t find anything in my lease that says I’d be liable for any other payment, but I’m not a lawyer and I could be misunderstanding it. I don’t like the idea of breaking my lease, but I don’t have lots of options.

I really, really, really don’t want to move for just a few months. I hate apartment hunting, I hate moving, and it’s unlikely I’ll find a reasonably priced apartment to rent on a month to month basis.

I called the Chicago Renters Rights Center just now and left a message asking for advice, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask the Dopers as well. Any thoughts?

I enjoy reading your posts, so I’d really like to help, but this is too specific of a question, and I can’t give legal advice over the internet, especially when it involves a document (your lease) that I haven’t read.

Urf. Now I feel really bad.
Umm, with the understanding that this isn’t reliable legal advice, mainly because I haven’t seen the document, I will say that it’s likely that you are misunderstanding something.

Generally, a tenant who moves before a lease ends is responsible for the rent for every month thereafter until the lease expires. A landlord has a duty to mitigate his damages by trying to re-let the space, but if no substitute tenant is found, and the place stays vacant, the old tenant is legally liable. This is true even if the lease doesn’t specifically say “Tenant is responsible for the rent for the balance of the lease if he moves out early.”

IAAL (and yes, I am licensed in your state), but I’m not your lawyer, and this isn’t reliable legal advice. For that, you need to see someone in person.

But I am going into the Peace Corps. I’m going to be teaching children in some backwater locale for two years! I really think they ought to go easy on me.

I guess I’ll have to talk to the Renters Rights lawyers.

And they might go easy on you. (Hey, the Peace Corps thing was one reason I responded here.) Or, even if they want to be cruel and mean, they might realize that chasing someone who’s in a small village in Benin is not the best use of their resources. (Service of process would be a real bitch.)

But they might decide to sue you, although (under the circumstances) it may not be likely. Even if they don’t, though, they could screw with your credit rating.

So you either (a) sign the six month lease and run some risk if you move out early; (b) sign the lease and then negotiate the best termination deal available if/when you do move out early; or © move.

Maybe there’s a fourth alternative, which is to go over the lease with a fine tooth comb, with a copy of the Chicago Landlord Tenant Ordinance beside you, and hope that the landlord screwed up somewhere (it happens more than you think), but I can’t usefully comment beyond that without seeing the lease.

My personal lease is actually very short and definitely doesn’t mention breaking. I also have the Chicago Apartment Lease, which AFACT doesn’t mention breaking either. It’s the Ordinance that I’m not sure about.

Leases in my area, once having reached their term, are renewed automatically on a month-to-month basis without additional paperwork. A renter just needs to fulfill notice to end the lease.

I would find your lease and read it carefully to see if this is the case with you.

(Obligatory ‘not a landlord’, etc…)

If I were in your situation, I’d be looking really hard for a sympathetic friend who’d let me crash on his or her couch/guest bed/hammock for an unspecified time in exchange for some help with the rent or mortgage. (If I were writing the screenplay, you would end up having frequent, crazy, no-strings-attached sex with this person.)

I don’t understand. The only lease that matters is the one that you signed. (And “breaking” is colloquial. I’m not surprised that this exact term is not in your lease. A written lease would use more formal language, such as “breach” or “default”.)
(The LTO is not a lease. But it imposes certain duties on residential landlords, assuming of course that the apartment is in Chicago. Sometimes, if a landlord is in breach of the ordinance, a tenant can use that breach to avoid liability under the lease that she signed.)

Umm, this can happen, but only if the lease is silent on the issue and (more importantly here) the landlord goes along with the idea. You seem to be implying that the tenant can just make this happen. No. Not anywhere that I’ve heard of, and certainly not in Illinois. If the tenant holds over, the landlord can evict him.

But she already said it was month to month - the origin term expired June 30 and she gave notice to vacate on July 31…or am I misunderstanding that part of it?

I made a special arrangement to stay an extra month because that’s all I thought I would need. They won’t let me stay month to month indefinitely. I have to sign a real lease. Or move.

I still don’t see anything in the standard Chicago Apartment Lease about breach or default. My dad is a lawyer (not in Illinois, though), tomorrow I’ll ask him if I can fax it over to him to look at, I guess.

jackelope, I don’t want to move, period. I REALLY don’t want to crash on someone’s floor for some indefinite period of time. I’d move back to my parents’ house before I did that.

How hot is the rental market in your area?

The legal issues (which Random is way more qualified to address) aside, a lot depends on what kind of apartment you’re renting, and what the market is like in your area. Is it a smaller placed owned by an individual? A big place owned by a REIT? How long do units like yours typically stay on the market?

If it’s a big place owned by a conglomerate, you may have luck writing in to the corporate offices and explaining your situation. Stress the “altruistically serving your country” aspect of it. If units like yours don’t stay on the market long, breaking the lease may not be that big a deal: you’ll only end up paying the rent up until the time someone else rents it.

Also, scrutinize your lease (the legal document) very closely. At least on the ones I’ve seen, clauses stipulating extra penalties or lease-ending fees (often stiff, but not as bad as many months rent) aren’t uncommon.
FWIW, I once broke a lease for purely selfish reasons (found a house I wanted earlier then I thought I would). By throwing myself on the mercy of the complex’s office, I ended up paying WAY less then I was legally liable for. So definately be VERY nice dealing with your landlord, because they have a lot of lattitude in how they handle this.

I think you’re misunderstanding the OP. (or if you’re not, I am.)

She said that extended the lease for a month after explaining her situation to her landlord. I read that as saying that the two parties agreed to extend the term of the lease for one month and one month only.

[A month-to-month tenancy is something different. It’s an indefinite arrangement. It continues until one side or the other gives sufficient advance notice of termination. In Illinois, notice is sufficient if is is given at least one month before the end of one of the lease-months. (People screw this up. It’s not 30 days notice or one month’s notice. If the lease is on a calendar month basis, and you give notice on July 2, the lease doesn’t end until August 31.)]

Okay, looks like I read that right.

Arg. Again, unless the “standard Chicago Apartment Lease” is the lease that you signed, it don’t matter. Throw it away. (and there’s no such thing as The Standard Chicago Apartment Lease, anyway.)

Not a bad idea, if by “it” you mean the lease that you signed, and not some random form. Send him the LTO, too.

Did you miss the part about the “frequent, crazy, no-strings-attached sex”?

I agree with all of this.

I work (in Oregon) for a Property Management company. Things may be different there, so check with your landlady, but if you think you can line up somebody to take over the lease for you before the 6 months is up, it is very easy to add them and drop you.

If your rental market is good, you should have no problem doing this with 30 day’s notice from the Peace Corps.

Good luck!

Have you spoken to anyone in the Peace Corps about this situation? If they make a habit of changing up “ship” dates (in your case, seems like it was just some bad timing on your back’s part…) they might have experience helping out people in your situation.

Do they have any domestic jobs with domestic housing they could place you in until you go out?

BTW what are you going to do with all your stuff when you go? Is your apartment furnished or something? Do you have to move everything to your folk’s house anyway?

I seriously doubt it. They’re helpful after you’ve completed your service, but not so much beforehand.

BTW what are you going to do with all your stuff when you go? Is your apartment furnished or something? Do you have to move everything to your folk’s house anyway?

Just give it away, I guess. Most of my furniture is from IKEA, it’s not worth the hassle of dragging it to California. (Anyone in Chicago need some random furnite?) My books I plan on shipping to mom and dad, though.

Kyla, to get rid of your furniture, I suggest Craigslist . You also might try there for a short sublet. I know you don’t want to move, but if you don’t want to have to deal with the lease issues, and you’re getting rid of your stuff anyway, why not?

The why not is that I have no idea when I’ll be leaving. I hate making a commitment when I don’t know whether or not I’ll be able to keep it or not.

I just looked at my lease addendum (the one that got me the extra month…I have it here at work) and it made reference to a previous lease, stating that I would follow those terms. Now, I was looking through all my lease stuff yesterday and I didn’t see any previous lease. WTF did I do with it? I am making myself insane with this shit.

I think I’m going to just resign for the six months. At the rate the PC is going, it’ll probably take that long to get a new assignment. If I have to break it, I’ll…I’ll figure something out then. I hope this doesn’t fuck anyone over too much, I just have no good options.