Can a Lease Be Broken If Both People Are Put into Long-term Care?

Updated on January 20, 2015
G.S. asks from Hopatcong, NJ
18 answers

My MIL and her brother have both become incapacitated over the past 4 months and have been placed in two separate facilities. Upon speaking w/their landlord who is now vacationing in Florida, he advised me that he will use their month & a half security towards their rent but expects payment up thru April on their apartment (their lease is up in June. Can he do that legally or is there a way that we can break a lease because of medical reasons? I advised him that we could have the house cleaned out by the end of the month, but he insisted that it would take much longer. I think his concern is not being up here to get anyone in the house, which I feel bad about, but my husband and I honestly are not in a financial position to float two houses, and neither are my in-laws. My MIL is on Medicaid and her SS goes directly to the facility she is in, leaving her $35/month and I'm quite certain that just about all of her brother's SS & pension will be going to the facility he is in as well. Neither of them have any assets nor any savings. Both of their names are on the rent, I'm wondering if it would be worth speaking with a lawyer. Any suggestions?

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answers from St. Louis on

Whoever is on the lease is responsible. Most landlords would be a little more reasonable than theirs seems but only because they are nice people. The landlord can sue them but what will he get?

The biggest thing you need to focus on is getting their stuff out of the apartment as quickly as possible. After that the most he can do is sue them and I doubt having their credit ruined at this point isn't going to effect them much.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

Honestly, I don't know why the landlord should take the loss on this. This is his business, an agreement was signed, a commitment was made and a tenant's personal circumstances are not his concern. Now, it would be nice if he found a new tenant and only charged until that person signed a lease and did not double dip.

1 mom found this helpful

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answers from Las Vegas on


It would be a good idea to speak with an attorney. Laws do vary from state to state, but there are certain things that tend to be universal.

You say that both of their names are on the lease. Are they the only two?
I am hoping that you and your husband are NOT on that lease. If your MIL and her brother are the only two people who signed the contract for the lease, then they (and their estates upon their deaths) are the only people responsible.

If you and/or your husband are not part of that contract, DO NOT pay the landlord. He would have no legal right to collect from you (as long as you are not part of that contract).

If your MIL and her brother break the lease, the landlord can certainly try to go after them for the next three month's rent. However, as their limited funds go directly to their respective care facilities, he will have very little luck with that. You know that saying 'you can't get blood from a turnip,' right?

While he could attempt legal action to collect rent for the next three months, knowing that there is little chance of him getting any real financial compensation, he may decide it is not worth his and his attorney's time.

The big unknown is her brother's complete financial picture. If he does have any assets, the landlord may decide it may be worth it to pursue action.

Bottom line for you: IF you and husband are not on that lease, you are not responsible. Don't pay this guy, and don't become frightened by threats of legal action. DO check with an attorney, particularly since you don't know the complete financial picture of your MIL's brother. Generally a well-worded letter from an attorney shuts down those threats very quickly.

Good luck and take care of yourself. Being a care-giver and over-seeing elderly relatives' lives can be so difficult, both emotionally and physically.

J. F.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

absolutely speak with a lawyer. it would be worth the consultation fee just to be confident about what their rights are as you proceed.
the LL is being a bit of a prick. i would advise him ASAP in writing (and the mail certified, signature and all) that they're in long-term care facilities and at what date you'll have their belongings out and the house cleared.
then the ball's in his court. he can be a prudent businessman and keep the deposit, cut his losses and find new tenants, or he can be an asshat and try to sue a couple of incapacitated elderly people for money they don't have. i don't foresee a happy outcome for him.
you're not going to be liable regardless, as you're not on the lease. just deal with him upfront and honorably, and let him take it however he likes.
best wishes for your MIL and her brother. it's so hard when our elderly relatives face this situation.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

It would be worth it to speak to a lawyer.

Check out the clause for

'You Have Suffered a Disabling Illness or Accident or Need to Move Into a Housing Facility for Seniors'

in the following:

9 moms found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

What a jerk landlord. If you want to be the nicer person tell the landlord that you will try and find renters for the house. I'm sure I will get a lot of backlash for this one but, if he's still a jerk I would clean out the house, inform him it's empty and move on. I doubt he would take the time and money to sue two people on SSI in long term care. Even if he did, it really would not hurt them at this point.

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Your name is not on the lease therefore you are not responsible for the rent. Since your MIL and brother have no assets there isn't much the landlord can do. He won't get anything even if he sues. If your MIL or brother want to buy a house or move into another apartment the fact that they broke a lease may lower their credit score. It's not likely that they will need a high score.

I might ask an attorney to be sure. Our senior center has a day each month that you can talk with an attorney for free. Since this issue is about your husbands mother and brother I think that you can make an appointment. Or often attorneys will advise you low cost or free.

I broke a lease several years ago and the manager kept my cleaning depost.
I wrote to say i'd left the apartment cleaner than when I moved in. He returned my deposit and I didn't hear from him again and the issue was not on my credit report.

I suggest that the landlord will keep their deposit and let the matter drop.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Lakeland on

Legally your parents are responsible for the rent until the end of the lease, it is a legal signed contract. However, if this were one of my properties I would break the lease due to medical reasons, but I am not their landlord and he sounds like a jerk.

I would speak with him again to be sure if he will work with you. I would offer for him to keep the security deposit and let you out of the lease (get something in writing) like an addendum to the original lease.

You can hire a lawyer, but that will end up costing you more money. He can sue for the rent, but I doubt he will get anything and it will hurt your parents credit (not sure how that will effect them if they are both in assisted living). I really don't see any judge ruling in his favor, its not like they are living in the house and refusing to pay.

Either way I would make sure to get all of their belongings out of the house and leave it in clean condition. Take pictures once its empty and clean.

Good Luck.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

It depends on the language of the lease. I would call the attorney general for the state where their rental is located. Many offices have special attorneys to assist low income renters. As a landlord, the most I would be able to do is sue for eviction due to unpaid rent. What would that get me? Then I would have to sue in small claims court to get any missing rent income I should have gotten from the renter. Work on getting it all cleaned out ASAP.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

Just move them out. The worst he can do is sue them and their income is so low he's not going to get anything out of them. Even if he does take them to court and get a judgement out of them he can only take a certain percentage and it won't effect their care. They are on SS and the landlord can't take anything they own or any money they have.

Plus it's not on you to pay this. Just move them out and be done.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Asheville on

There's this thing called mitigation of damages. He can take the security deposit, but he must take meaningful steps to get new tenants in a timely manner or risk getting less in damages if he were to sue for full rent until April. The fact that he's not present to handle the situation is not your problem. You can take steps to sublet the place, if he will allow it. If not, he must take the steps to have it re-rented in a reasonable amount of time. You may still owe for the time he couldn't rent, but that be far less than full rent for 4 mos.

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Let him sue.
Can't get blood from a stone...
Good luck!

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

First, the landlord is a jerk! We own rental property and so do my in-laws. My in-laws have let two sets of renters out of leases for reasons beyond the renters' control (like your situation).

I assume you paid February. Clean their stuff out and mail the keys to the landlord with a letter saying why they're vacating. (Perhaps get it notarized). Include the date you moved out and take pictures! (Just in case there is vandalism after you move out). Assume you've lost the security deposit--which will pay March and 1/2 of April. That gives him 45 days to find a renter--his problem, not yours! That leaves 1/2 of April, May, and June unpaid.

Let's pretend the rent is $800/mo. The landlord is out $2000, if he can't rent it. I, personally, would not get lawyers involved for $2000.

That's the risk you take with rental property--sometimes it sits empty and the owner gets stuck paying the bill.

I wish you the best!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You would have to check local laws. You might also ask if you find a tenant on your own, could you break your lease and have them start a new one, so the house is occupied through the original date? My DH did that when he moved during his split from his ex. The landlord just wanted to meet the applicants and was happy to have someone in the house, even if it wasn't DH. You may also find out what the penalty is on the lease for breaking it. It may be less than the rent through April and worth considering. If you are certain the house will be cleared by the end of the month, then get working on that and take photographs, etc. to prove to him it is no longer occupied. I also do not think he can come after you for money they owe, so in that regard he's just looking for someone to pay, doesn't care who. If their credit is not a consideration, I'd give him the deposit to keep and just move them out.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

First thing, I would look at the lease. In your entire post, I didn't see any mention of what the lease agreement states happens if the lease is broken. That's where you start.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Appleton on

Read it over very carefully. Many so called leases are actually rental agreements and state with a 28 day notice the renter can move and not be responsible for rent.
If you are not on the lease you are not responsible to pay the rent. The landlord can take them to court but if there is no money to pay him it is an exercise in futility. He would then have to absorb court costs and any loss of rent.
One thing you and/or your hubby need to do is get a Power of Attorney agreement over both your MIL and her brother. This will give you the power to speak for them. Depending upon how it is worded you should be able to do their banking, speak to their doctors and medical persons caring for them and simply take care of their needs.
The landlord is being a jerk. He should have a resident manager to show the apartment and rent it out before April. If he keeps the security deposit and you have followed all the requirements listed in the lease (rental agreement) as far as the condition of the apartment upon moving you can take him to small claims court for the return of the deposit.
You can and maybe should talk to an attorney but an attorney may not be able to help you unless you have a POA for both parties.
If they are incompacited to the point they can't speak for themselves an attorney can draw up the paperwork for a POA but you will need a judge to declare you the POA. If they can speak for themselves they can simply sign the POA documents with witnesses and they should be legally binding. The attorney will be able to better advise you about what is or is not legal in your state.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

If it's only the two of them on the lease and they both are in a nursing home now, NO ONE is legally obligated to continue rent payments. The landlord cannot come after you or any other family member UNLESS your name is on the lease. He will get to keep the security deposit.

And legally he would have to evict them in the courts and that would cost him big bucks and can take at least a year to evict them. So remind him that you are dong him a HUGE favor by getting their stuff out of the apartment by the end of the month.

Don't let him scare you!!! In fact let him know that you didn't even have to tell him what was going on. Do NOT give him a penny!!!! No need to speak with an attorney, just clear their stuff out.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

Truly, if you don't expect them to ever leave the facility, I would move their stuff out and let the landlord do what he may. He may try to sue them for the balance on the lease, which he is entitled to do. I don't know of any provision for breaking a least due to medical issues. If he sues, he'll win and get a judgment but if they have no bank accounts, he won't be able to collect on the judgment and he will end up with a worthless piece of paper. Their credit will be impacted, but if they are not expected to leave the facility, then who really cares about a ding to their credit.

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