If a tenant leaves early can you charge a “breaking the lease fee?” is the question this week for veteran landlord and property manager Hank Rossi who answers questions from other landlords and property managers around the country about their rentals.

Dear Landlord Hank:

My tenant gave notice that they are ending the lease four months early. I know I can charge for expenses to rent the property again and any months it’s not rented, but I manage it myself so there are not any real expenses. Only my time and energy and I have already found a new tenant so there is only a few days of missed rent. However, I would like to charge a “breaking the lease fee” for my time and the inconvenience. How much can I charge if the lease doesn’t specifically say how much a charge would be for breaking the lease? The house is in Peoria, Arizona and I’m thinking of just charging the security deposit as the fee. Thanks for your help!
-Mike

Dear Landlord Mike:

I’m not able to give legal advice, so please don’t construe this as legal such.

Does your lease address default?  Usually there is a paragraph devoted this issue, since it  happens frequently.

Some leases indicate that if the tenant doesn’t fulfill the lease, the owner is entitled to the deposit.

Other leases indicate the deposit is for damage only and any unpaid rent, future rent, attorney fees, etc.

Sounds like you have a few days rent coming to you, for sure. I know you feel like the tenant owes you something for breaking the lease, but it sounds like you haven’t really lost anything, other than a few days rent.

If the tenant were to take you to court over the security deposit, and it comes to light that your only real claim of loss is a few days rent, you could potentially owe the tenant for legal fees and at least the entire deposit. (I don’t know Arizona state law).

I’d consider myself very lucky to have been able to re-rent almost immediately, and give the tenant an official accounting of the few days deduction of rent from the deposit, and refund the balance by certified mail, in the time frame you have to work in.

You may want to amend your next lease to address this issue.

Sincerely,

Hank Rossi

Other recent Dear Landlord Hank posts you may have missed:

If A Good Tenant Loses A Job How Long Before You Evict Them?

How Do You Raise Rent For A Long-Time Tenant?

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 Where Do You Draw The Line On Normal Wear And Tear?

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