LEASE BREAKS DUE TO MEDICAL REASONS
Every manager will eventually experience the situation in which the resident has a family, medical or work issue, and the resident desires to break the lease. Can the resident simply break the lease if something either in their control or out of their control occurs? Florida law does not give the resident any leeway in this area. Unless the lease specifically has a clause or clauses allowing a resident to be released from the lease obligations if a particular event occurs, the resident will be held to the lease. In reality, the resident will most likely walk out on the lease anyway, but may be still obligated to you under the terms of the lease agreement. The question then remains, what will a judge say in court?
The Medical Lease Break
Florida law does not allow a resident to break a lease due to a medical condition, either preexisting or new, although you may want to allow the resident to break the lease without penalty in certain circumstances. There are many elderly residents in Florida who cannot complete their lease terms due to having to be placed in an assisted care facility. Other residents may have a serious sickness which requires long term care or some condition which does not permit them to reside on the premises on their own. We recommend that with verification from a physician, you allow individuals to break their lease without penalty. If you were to treat the vacating resident as a typical lease break, and you decide to take the case to Small Claims Court, many judges would probably rule that due to the impossibility of the resident to perform the lease obligations, through the judge’s equitable powers, the resident will be allowed to break the lease without penalty.
Disabilities and Fair Housing laws
In a hypothetical situation, a resident tells you she can no longer climb the stairs in your building to her 2nd floor apartment due to a disability, and you have no 1st floor apartments available. Should you allow her to break the lease without penalty? The law requires that you make a “reasonable accommodation” for the resident. That might mean agreeing to let them transfer to a first floor unit when one becomes available, but it does not mean the resident can escape the lease obligations altogether. The resident is not entitled to break the lease because she has become disabled. Think of it this way: Breaking the lease is not a reasonable accommodation, because it does not aid the handicapped person in living at your property. It does just the opposite! Your decision to allow a lease break will decrease the possibility of potential litigation or a discrimination case being filed against you. Discrimination cases are most often decided in favor of the manager, but at what cost in wasted time and money?
If a resident anticipates prior to lease signing that they may have to terminate their lease early due to a medical condition, wording can be placed in the lease dealing with the terms and conditions of what will be a mutual termination of the lease. We recommend that you ask your attorney to draw up a clause which can be placed in the special stipulation section of the lease to accomplish the wishes of all parties. Ambiguity will cause problems, misunderstanding and potentially litigation. A short statement like “Resident may terminate the lease early if they must go to an assisted care facility” is not specific enough, as it does not deal with monetary issues, notice issues and is open to interpretation.
The Mutual Termination of Lease
In the event the manager and resident agree on a mutual termination of the lease, all terms and conditions should be memorialized in writing and signed by all parties. The security deposit, last month’s rent and any other monetary sums should be completely dealt with to effectuate a clean break with no misunderstandings.
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