Author Topic: Lease problem  (Read 1697 times)


  • Magnum Stache
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  • Location: New York
Lease problem
« on: October 05, 2015, 05:15:45 AM »
Hi mustachians,

I have a problem on the leasing side that I figured this community would know a lot about. I signed a lease on 8/15 with an elderly landlord and his wife. He is 88 and his wife is 82. They seemed like nice folks and had a beautiful 100 acre horse farm with three units. Their daughter lives in the top unit, we're in the bottom unit, and a single woman lives in the cottage.

Over the first few weeks after we moved in, the wife would come looking around our cars. I had a flat tire on one of my cars that bound to the axle, and I had to call a tow to take it in to a garage to heat up with a blowtorch. As the tow driver is loading it on the truck, the wife comes out to "make sure he isn't stealing anything." OK, just typical protective homeowner stuff so far.

A few days after this, the husband asks me if I wanted a place to park one of our cars for the winter, I said yes, that would be great! I have a non-mustachian sports car that I really need to get rid of, but for now I store it in the winter months. When I had my house it was garaged, and I still hadn't figured out what to do with it this year. He brings me to a place around the back of the barn we're in, underneath is a covered storage area where the wife keeps her winter car. It has not been moved in years and he says she takes it out once or twice a year, but hasn't in a while, and if I want to store my car in front of it I can. We will need to move it back a few feet to make room. He promises to get the keys soon, and I'll do the pushing.

A couple of weeks go by. I ask him if he has found the keys but he has forgotten. He seems to have memory trouble, which is understandable at 88. No problem. The next time I ask he suggests I move it in there and leave the door open, and he'll find the keys ASAP. OK, I say, and I do that. Car sticks out about 3 inches so we don't need to move it far.

That evening, the wife comes banging on our door at 930pm. I answer the door and I'm looking at a completely different person. She's bouncing around, a wild look in her eye. First thing she says is that she's going to kill my dog. I get the dog inside (she was barking because, well, there's a crazy person threatening her owner). She yells at me for about ten minutes. I am trying to understand what she's saying but it's tough. She talked about so many other things, it was a very unstable thread. I finally figure out that she wants me to move my car. OK, I say, no problem, all you had to do was ask. She yells at me some more as I walk around the corner to do this and eventually goes back in her house.

Next day I talk to the daughter and husband and learn that she is schizophrenic.

So I took the car offsite for now, but I am unsettled by her threat to kill my dog. They have keys to our apartment and it would be very easy to walk in and put antifeeze in her water bowl while we're at work. I speak to the daughter the next day. She says her mom is schizophrenic and has been getting worse. There have been other events with workmen on the property. I tell her we really need to find a safe place to live and want to make sure we don't get sued. She is understanding and says they're not that kind of people, and she will talk to her dad.

I talk to Bob the next day, he is likewise understanding and says that they have tried to have her committed, but she is clever and figures out how to evade the evaluations. He's been living with this for 50 years and I guess he has learned how to deal with it. Basically, give her whatever she wants and wait for her to calm down. He asks us to stay, I say that's really not going to work, my wife does not feel safe. He says take a few days to think about it. I tell him I'd like to deal with his daughter from now on so I don't get in the middle of him and the wife (and I don't say this, but he also can't remember much of our conversations). He says OK.

So we go look for another place, found one available 11/1. I tell the daughter that we'll be out by 11/8 (just in case the construction doesn't complete on time - it's a total reno). We paid last month rent when we signed the lease, so I let her know we plan to use that for October. She apologizes again and says that's fine and good luck. I say the same. Next morning, Bob calls me and says he plans to sue me for the full value of the lease. And that I have to pay October by today or he's evicting me.

I'm leaving out lots of little things like the time she parked a horse trailer across the driveway to block our entry; shutting off the internet connection and hot water for a day; etc.

TLDR: Schizophrenic landlady threatens to kill my dog, Landlord threatens to sue me for full lease value; looking for options.

So here are my questions:
* Do I have any recourse here? Or am I likely to be found responsible for 10 months of rent I didn't pay? We paid half of August and all of September, plus last months rent, sec deposit, and a 250 refundable dog deposit.
* Advice in my situation? Staying is not possible, I'm not waiting for the schizophrenic landlady to kill the dog or us in the middle of the night.


  • Bristles
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Re: Lease problem
« Reply #1 on: October 05, 2015, 09:08:54 AM »
Advice in the future?  Anytime you have significant landlord issues (and threatening the lives of your household is very significant), always always ALWAYS communicate them politely (in person, or phone, etc.) to try to defuse the situation but follow up via email so that it's on record.  You'd be in a much better legal standing if you had on record that these threats occurred and they acknowledged them.  Right now you're depending on the daughter's honesty and/or the father's mental soundness.  If you try to argue that the reason you're leaving is because of the threat against your dog's life, the burden of proof is going to be on you -- why didn't you call the police immediately when this happened (this question likely will be asked by any judge)?

In any case, the worst that should happen is you can be liable for 1 month rent or until the apartment is rented to someone else.  In most states landlords have a duty to try to mitigate losses arising from broken leases -- so he cannot simply refuse to try to re-rent and stick you for the remainder of the lease.  Plan on them finding a litany of reasons why your security deposits won't be refunded -- typical crazy landlord 101 BS, and you my friend have a crazy landlord.


  • Handlebar Stache
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Re: Lease problem
« Reply #2 on: October 05, 2015, 09:22:34 AM »
Hi Axecleaver. The laws vary by state. You don't specifically say that your questions pertain to New York, but the location on your profile is stated to be New York. I can provide some general information about the relevant law of New York, but you should understand that my post is only a secondary source of information and is not a substitute for mastering the primary sources or retaining counsel.

In New York, "Once the lease is executed, the lessee's obligation to pay rent is fixed according to its terms and a landlord is under no obligation or duty to the tenant to relet, or attempt to relet abandoned premises in order to minimize damages". Holy Props v. Cole Prods, 661 NE 2d 694 (NY Ct App 1995). See also Rios v. Carrillo, 53 AD 3d 111 (NY 2nd App Div 2008) ("[A] residential landlord is under no duty to mitigate damages where the terms of the lease do not indicate otherwise.") (emphasis added).

As for leaving without continuing to pay, you may have to establish that the landlord has breached the covenant of quiet enjoyment through its actions. Here is a general statement of the test for that:

              To establish a breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment, a tenant must show either an actual or constructive eviction ... A constructive eviction occurs where the landlord's wrongful acts substantially and materially deprive the tenant of the beneficial use and enjoyment of the leased premises ...
Grammer v. Turits, 271 AD 2d 644, 645-46 (NY 2nd App Div 2000) (internal citations omitted).

I express no view on whether you can meet that test.

Another option is that New York law confers the following right relative to assignment of leases: Subject to various conditions which I will not discuss here, if you find a new tenant and propose to assign the lease to that new tenant and the landlord "unreasonably withholds consent", then the landlord is required to "release the tenant from the lease upon request of the tenant upon thirty days notice". NY Real Property Law 226-b(1). Please note that after assignment of a lease, the common law rule is that you are still liable to the landlord in privity of contract if the new tenant defaults on her obligations. I have not researched whether that common law rule is the law in New York.
« Last Edit: October 05, 2015, 09:33:56 AM by Cathy »


  • Magnum Stache
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Re: Lease problem
« Reply #3 on: October 05, 2015, 01:38:42 PM »
Thanks Cathy, I appreciate your research and advice. I will retain counsel in case this goes farther. Just looking for some advice while I get that lined up.

Seems like the best plan is to get out ASAP and leave the place as re-rentable as possible. The landlord said that he had called his real estate agent to look for another tenant, so it sounds like he is doing what he can to replace me. In a worst case scenario I'd be liable for any rent until the new person moves in, plus whatever expenses he incurred for re-renting it.

AH, thanks for advice on documentation. The elderly folks don't use email, but I have been documenting everything in a journal. Not sure how much "proof" that makes, but it helps me to keep the events straight.