QI looked at a place two days ago and signed the lease a few hours later after much pressure from the real estate agent. I signed the lease on the 11th to commence on the first of the following month. I have realized that this apartment is too expensive for me and I won't be able to afford it based on my salary. Is there a way to terminate this lease?

ALandlords' attorney

Smith replies:

At this point, you may not cancel the lease. While some states have laws that provide consumers with a "cooling-off and rescission period" (usually 72 hours) for certain types of contracts, such laws typically have not been extended to rental housing contracts. The lease is binding, even though you have yet to assume possession of the premises. You will remain responsible for the time the apartment is vacant and all costs associated with advertising and re-leasing the unit. This legal responsibility will stop when the premises are successfully re-leased to a qualified replacement tenant. You may be able to negotiate a lease-breaking fee by mutual agreement to put this matter behind you when you move.

Tenants' attorney Kellman replies:

I agree with Ted that there is no automatic cooling-off or rescission period in residential leases. Once it is signed, it is usually a done deal.

But even if there is no legal right to cancel the contract, there are ways that leases can be terminated at minimum cost to the tenant. In your case, you may be able to escape liability on that lease in several ways. You may assist in obtaining a replacement tenant by advertising or networking efforts on your own. You may offer a discount on the rent, which you would pay to attract that new tenant. There are even more methods available to break leases. A tenant may be relieved of a lease when the landlord or his agent misrepresents or conceals important facts about the unit. There may be some term or defect in the lease itself that may allow an early termination. To weigh your options, seek legal advice before agreeing to pay any more rent on that lease.

I rent a two-bedroom house that has a fairly large back yard. Who is responsible for lawn and garden maintenance? I pay a gardener $60 per month to cut the grass and shrubbery. It seems odd to me that I should be responsible for this when I don't even own the house. Can you advise?

Property manager Griswold replies:

There are no laws or rules about who is responsible for taking care of the grounds and landscaping. It is subject to negotiation between the parties.

I strongly suggest that the landlord retain control over the grounds maintenance because most tenants will not properly care for the property, because they don't have the same incentive as the owner. I am sure that you are different, but you can see why I might have my doubts about the desire of the tenant to pour his money into anything beyond the bare minimum of mowing and edging, as he is unlikely to reap the long-term benefits of any improvements or upgrades to the property.

Thus, I would suggest you contact the owner and offer to pay $60 more per month in rent and let the owner pay the landscaper directly. While this may not seem to be an improvement in your situation because you are already paying $60 per month, it will be great to be out from under that liability should there ever be any extra work needed or should the landscaper fail to properly maintain the property. You could be unpleasantly surprised to find out the cost of replacing the landscaping (especially large trees) if the landscaper you selected, supervised and paid is negligent. Let the landlord be responsible for the landscaping and never give him any basis , however weak, to claim that it is your fault if the landscaping isn't perfect.

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.

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