Sunday, January 13, 2008

Discussion with Landlord about lease terms.

I had a meeting with our landlord yesterday after Shabbos. Naturally, we were prepared for the meeting, but we were unprepared for what happened.

As of Friday, after the no-show of the landlord the evening before (and after countless phone calls and requests for him to call us back), I called my wife on the phone and told her that we should make the decision to move out at the end of the month, or as soon as possible, because even if we did get a lease eventually, the landlord would be an absentee landlord, wouldn't fix anything if it broke, and probably wouldn't adhere to the lease terms anyway. So we firmly made a decision that unless the landlord comes through and addresses our issues to our liking, we are deciding to find another place and to move out at the end of the month.

So the landlord showed up after Shabbos, and we sat down to discuss the issues that have come up over the past month with his wife and his kids. He told us that we should ignore everything his wife and his kids say about the rental and its limitations, because he is the boss, he is the owner, and whatever he says is the law. I respected his mentality because it was consistent with the Sefardi ancestry of which he is part of. He also told me that he is a believer in whatever the siddur that was sitting on my table says and then he went on to tell me what a good person he is and how honest he is.

We proceeded to discuss the issues -- the term of the lease, the security deposit, the washer and dryer, repairs that are needed, and he seemed to be friendly to all of them.

Hearing this, I decided to take out the neutral lease that I downloaded from the internet (as opposed to the unfair one-sided lease that his son gave us), and I proceeded to fill in the details and make minor changes to reflect what we would agree to and what we would not agree to.

The changes I made to the lease were items that I felt the lease was unclear about or was improperly written, such as [inter alia]:

1. Location of premises: Instead of writing, "Tenant is leasing XXXX Crown Street, Brooklyn NY 11225 (just an example, not actual address)," I wrote "Tenant is leasing XXXX Crown Street, 2nd Floor with stairway access to laundry room" because I didn't want the landlord one day to lock the stairway door to the basement and say, "sorry, if you want to use your own washer and dryer, you will have to walk outside, walk around the block, and enter the laundry room through the garage access." This is not a likely occurrence, but given the past actions of the landlord, we don't trust that they *wouldn't* do this, and so I felt that it was important to be as specific as possible when describing what we were renting.

2. "Tenant shall not sublet the apartment without written permission from the Landlord." I added in ink, "...landlord shall not unreasonably withhold consent" meaning that if for some reason we needed to sublet and we did our work and found good tenants, the landlord cannot unreasonably reject the new tenants. If there is a reasonable reason for rejection (e.g. they don't trust them, or they have bad credit, etc.) that is understandable, but b'kitzur, I didn't want to give the landlords the ability to stick it to us if we wanted to sublet. By the way, we have no intention of subletting.

3. "Tenant agrees to return property to the landlord in as good condition as property was given to tenant, normal wear and tear *excepted*." As soon as I read that, I saw the word "excepted" was misspelled, and it should have read "expected." So I crossed out the word and replaced it with the correct spelling.

4. Attorneys fees. Being an attorney, we plan on being very honest and good tenants. If we end up in litigation with the landlord, it will be because they did something immoral or illegal, or because they violated the lease terms, not us. The lease originally wrote that "if there are any disputes, Tenant agrees to pay all costs and attorneys fees to litigate the issue." I am not agreeing to this, so I crossed this out.

Anyway, in short, I made these and other changes in front of him and then I told him to have his lawyer check over the lease for fairness and to get back to us. The landlord was shocked and scared and offended by what I marked up, because he felt that I was being unfair and was changing the lease to make it fair to me and unfair to him. I assured him that I was being upfront and that there was nothing sneaky about what I did, and I am totally open to discussing and/or negotiating the changes I made to the lease because I am very flexible about it. I just wanted the lease to reflect the nature of our deal, that's it. If he doesn't like a term I inserted, I am totally open to removing it. He left annoyed and he said, "I'm going to have my lawyer look at this." I told him to please feel free to have the lawyer call me if s/he has any questions.

Later, when I asked my wife about her opinion about what happened, she told me that he and his family have been playing games with us since we moved in, causing us stress and emotional pain unnecessarily by changing terms and taking away things they promised to us. The fact that I was a lawyer and that I was making changes to the face of the lease document made him nervous, and she was glad that he got nervous. At least now he got some of his own medicine and he should learn that it is not right to do that to other people.

I explained to her that I was being as open and fair as possible. As a lawyer, we have an ethical duty of fully disclosing anything we do because we have an advantage over regular folk, especially when it comes to legal terms and reading into and writing contracts. I could have easily written those changes into the document and I could have printed the document out *with* the changes (as his son did to me with the original lease), however I felt that was dishonest, and any changes to the lease template should be made openly and honestly so that we can talk about the terms and come to an understanding and an agreement. I didn't want to trick him into signing a lease with various terms; I wanted him to know what he was signing so that I could hold him to it if there ever was a dispute between us.

In sum, I am no longer stressed about the whole situation. I am ready to move out of this place, and I am ready to tell the landlord that we are no longer interested in the apartment and that we are planning to move out as soon as we find an apartment or house acceptable to move into. The hindrance here is that my wife (and I) really like the apartment and its location within the community, and I want to avoid the ordeal of hiring a U-Haul, packing everything up all over again (we haven't unpacked yet because we knew there were issues with the landlord, but nevertheless we have unpacked a good number of boxes just to find items needed for daily use) and moving all over again with a new set of negotiations and a new lease negotiation, etc. Plus, unlike the last time we moved, now I am employed and so any moving will have to be on a Sunday, which will cut into the only day I have available to rest from the work week. All this being said, the landlord *is* a problem, and they have caused us much stress, and we don't expect them to cause us any fewer problems in the future. Lastly, we expect problems from them regarding the security deposit when we move out, and I am not so sure I want to enter into an agreement knowing down the like the landlord is likely to breach that agreement upon us leaving.

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