Can I Get Out of a Lease Due to the COVID Pandemic?
Many people are wondering if they can get out of their apartment/house lease due to the COVID pandemic. This question is often asked by college students, or parents of college students, who agreed to move into an apartment or house at the beginning of the school year based on a lease that was signed prior to the COVID pandemic.
The answer is that it will likely be very difficult to get out of the lease. The lease is a binding contract between the tenant and the landlord in which the tenant agreed to make monthly rent payments to the landlord for a certain period of time (typically one year). If the tenant decides not to return to school (and not live in the apartment/house), he/she is still responsible for the monthly rent payments. If the tenant refuses to pay the monthly rental fee the landlord can then sue the tenant to recover the rent payments that were not paid.
In Michigan a landlord has a legal duty to mitigate a tenant's damages in this type of situation. This means that the landlord must take reasonable steps to try and re-rent the property to another individual. For example, if the landlord is able to re-rent the property two months after the breaching tenant's lease was to begin, the breaching tenant would owe the landlord two months rent and would no longer be responsible for the remaining 10 months of rent (assuming it was a one-year lease). However, if the landlord takes reasonable steps to re-rent the property but is unable to get another individual to rent the property then the breaching tenant will be responsible for the entire 12 months of rent.
If you find yourself in this situation you have some options.
Talk to the landlord about your situation and see if you can get something worked out. Maybe the landlord will accept a certain sum of money to terminate the lease, or perhaps the landlord will be willing to reduce the monthly rent amount for a certain number of months. See if your lease has a termination clause. Such a clause may allow you to terminate the lease by providing advance written notice and payment of a fine.
Look at your lease and see if it allows sub-leasing or assignments. Many leases include this type of clause. If so, see if you can find someone who would be willing to sub-lease the property from you or replace you on the lease. This typically requires landlord approval but it's definitely an option worth exploring.
Review your lease and see if it has a force majeure clause (disaster clause). Such a clause might allow the lease to be terminated under certain "disaster" type of situations. It is unclear if the COVID pandemic would apply to this situation, particularly if the lease states that a pandemic is not considered a disaster.
Worst case, you are responsible for the rental payments for the full term of the lease. If you do not make these payments the landlord can sue you in order to recover this money.
Best case, you're able to work something out through some of the above options and keep your losses to a minimum.
If you have further questions about your situation it is best to consult an attorney, especially if you are being sued by your landlord for non-payment of rent.