QMy husband signed a 12-month lease for my daughter when she went to college. Unfortunately, within her first two months away from home she developed severe depression. After talking with her psychologist, we agreed we better bring her home to live with us for her own safety. She has dropped all of her classes at college.

We need to get out of her lease. We spoke to the manager, who told us that we would have to pay for 60 days' rent. Further, we must pay back the first month's rent that was free with the lease, plus a $250 bonus coupon that was used on the second month's rent. This totals more than $3,500 just to break the lease. Can you help us think of a legal way to get out of the lease?

AProperty manager

Griswold replies:

No, I can't. You may want to seek legal advice from someone who can actually look at your documents. Your daughter is in an unfortunate situation, but I am not aware of any legal basis for breaking the lease.

This may seem harsh, but a lease is a formal written contract that requires the performance of all parties, even if there are changes in personal needs.

You can present your story to the building's management and see if it would be willing to negotiate a better deal. It sounds, however, as if the landlord is already offering you a liquidated damages buyout of the remaining lease term, rather than trying to hold you responsible for the entire term of the lease or until the rental unit is rented again.

Of course, any rental concessions, such as free rent or discounts off the rent, are valid only for residents who fulfill the entire term of the lease. In other words, no rental property would stay in business for long by offering free rent and then allowing the resident to cancel when it is time to pay.

You may not have been able to predict the change in your daughter's health, but your experience shows one of the risks tenants face when taking advantage of the benefits of long-term leases. If your daughter had been on a month-to-month rental agreement, it would have been relatively inexpensive to relinquish her apartment. Of course, she would not have been offered the generous rent concessions, would probably have paid a higher monthly rent, and would have been subject to changes in the terms of her rental agreement at any time upon 30 days' written notice.

I hope that your daughter returns to good health and is back at school soon. In light of your circumstances, you may want to try to negotiate an agreement that would allow your daughter to return to the apartment community upon favorable terms.

We were told by the property manager at a local rental property that a law exists that states the longest apartment lease that can be written is for 12 months. We wanted a 24-month lease. Is 12 months the longest lease term a landlord can write?

Landlords' attorney Smith replies:

There is no limit on the length of time for which a landlord may lease residential property. The general rule of thumb is 12 months. I've seen cases of 24-month, 36-month and five-year residential leases. They are rare, but they exist.

Any lease beyond one year must be in writing, according to the statute of frauds. Your landlord is not legally required to do a 24-month lease, but maybe you can talk him into it if you are prepared to lock yourself in to that type of commitment.

This column on issues confronting tenants and landlords is written by property manager Robert Griswold and San Diego lawyers Steven R. Kellman, director of the Tenant's Legal Center, and Ted Smith, principal in a firm representing landlords. E-mail your questions to Griswold at rgriswold.inman@retodayradio.com. Questions should be brief and cannot be answered individually.

{copy} 2004 Inman News Features

Distributed by Inman News Features