Q: I rented a condo and moved out early because I bought a condo of my own. The lease stated that if I moved out early, I would be responsible for three months rent. The owner is now demanding that I pay him the three months. I know he rented the place out two weeks after I left. Do I need to pay him? – John
A: You owe him some money, but not nearly what he is demanding. When a tenant breaches their lease, the landlord is left with several choices. The landlord can treat the lease ad terminated and use the property for himself or a family member. Here the tenant is entirely off the hook for additional rent. The owner can also do nothing and treat the lease as if it is still in good standing. The tenant will owe each month as it comes due until the natural end of the contract.
The most popular choice is for the landlord to take possession of the property and try to lease it in good faith to a new tenant. If your landlord makes this choice, you would owe him any difference between what he would have got under your lease and what he receives during that same period from the new tenant. In your case, if your landlord makes this choice, you would owe only two weeks of rent.
Under the last option, you would owe the specific amount you agreed to in the lease, known as "liquidated damages." However, to be valid, there are several requirements under Florida law. You both must sign a separate addendum to your lease with the specific wording found in the statute, and the amount is limited to no more than the remainder of the month you moved out plus two full months of rent. He is entitled to this total amount even if he uses the property himself or relets it the next day.
However, since your lease did not comply with these requirements by asking for three months, this option is not available to your landlord, and you owe him only the two weeks he lost.
Finally, besides the terms of your lease and state law restrictions, some counties and municipalities have ordinances that speak to this issue. It is essential to check all of these sources to know what your rights and responsibilities are.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.