VOLUME 5RNavigating Mid-Year Landlord Lease Changes?
Are Renters Required To Agree To New Lease Requirements Mid-Year?
By Shamontiel L. VaughnPhoto credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya/PexelsMistakes happen. But what happens when that mistake requires a landlord to need to change the tenant’s lease after she’s already moved in? The response to mid-year lease changes can vary—a win-lose or lose-lose situation for the tenant or the landlord, or a win-win and a happy medium for both parties.

Why Would Lease Changes Be Needed At All?
There are a number of reasons why a property owner may have overlooked something in a lease before it was signed. It could be as simple as a Realtor or property manager promising one thing to a tenant while the landlord agreed to another. It could be more complex like a state law changing. Or, the landlord could’ve just changed her mind about a past decision after a poor experience with a prior tenant.

Either way, after the Realtor gets paid for closing costs, mid-lease changes come down to the property owner and the tenant. The Realtor has moved on to the next prospective tenant.

Can landlords change the rental rules mid-lease? The simple answer is no. If landlords could change the terms any time they wanted to—as long as they’re still within state law guidelines—tenants would be in a nonstop guessing game of what they can and cannot do.

And some rental perks may have been the reason that a tenant moved into the Texas or Florida rental in the first place. So how should tenants respond to landlords who want to change the rental terms mid-lease? Read on.

Re-Review Fluctuating Rules In the Original LeaseLet’s say a tenant was promised the option of living in a pet-friendly home. There is language in the lease about breeds, sizes and quantity, and the tenant has followed all the rules. This is an example of something that (usually) cannot be changed mid-year.

The tenant has already brought her four-legged friend into the rental and paid any pet deposits, pet security fees or pet rent (if required). Getting rid of the pet mid-lease would require getting family members or adoption agencies involved, or moving out.

However, if the lease has language that makes this type of rental perk dependent on third-party circumstances, tenants may have to deal with the consequences. For example, if the landlord’s lease dictates that pets are allowed as long as the condo board approves, but then the condo board later chooses to prohibit pets, the landlord could be fined for not following association rules. (Note: A responsible landlord will bring up this dilemma at the next board meeting to potentially have current pets grandfathered in.)

Before a tenant signs a lease, especially if there are other parties deciding on the long-term living agreements, make sure to triple-check any fluctuating rules. Additionally, if any rules are dependent upon the tenant’s behavior, prepare for that too. For example, if the tenant was given the written option to have a pet but the pet caused significant damage and constant complaints, this may affect the terms of the lease and the pet’s stay too.

Photo credit: Karolina Grabowska/PexelsReview Questionable Fines In the New Lease
Landlords should spell out fines in the lease before a tenant moves in. While some fines are a given (ex. late rental payments, property damage), others may not be. For example, Florida and Texas have differing views on how tenants should handle repair requests when the landlord is inactive. However, all states are pretty much in alignment with fining tenants for not disclosing new roommates or having one too many for a single dwelling.

If the landlord decides to incorporate questionable fines into the lease that don’t mirror federal or state laws, this is the best time to get a real estate attorney involved—or contact tenant legal hotlines for guidance.

Or, if the landlord still insists on a mid-year lease change and is willing to invest in court costs, ask to amicably move early. While moving out without a fight may seem unfair, the mountain of tenant-attorney fees will almost certainly affect the tenant’s finances. Additionally, tenants may be able to keep their positive rental history and get their security deposit back by distancing themselves from irresponsible landlords.

Exception To the Repair Fine Rule
There is a gray area on repairs and fines. If the repairs are because the tenant is at fault, the fines may be legitimate. Let’s say the landlord gave the tenant permission pre-move-in for specific bathroom upgrades.

However, during the upgrade job, something fell and cracked the toilet. In this case, the toilet repair would be the responsibility of the tenant if the lease stated that these upgrades would be done at no additional cost to the landlord. The tenant can’t blame the landlord nor justify the property damage if it’s related to the tenant’s outside project.

But if upgrades were being completed and the toilet just so happened to crack on its own from natural aging, this would be an expense the landlord would usually cover. Although renters insurance covers quite a bit of the tenant’s belongings, appliances and the structure of the unit are usually under homeowners insurance (i.e. the landlord’s insurance). If the toilet damage and the home upgrades are happening simultaneously, the tenant may have to prove that one was not a direct result of the other.

With that said, the fines for ignored repairs may vary. The original lease should’ve specified the fees for these upgrades ahead of time. If not, a mid-year lease change to reflect those changes could arguably be too little, too late. Paying for the actual documented cost of repairs is easier to track than a random fine. Contact legal counsel for clarity.

Photo credit: Towfiqu barbhuiya/PexelsMake the New Lease Changes Negotiable for Both
If/when a landlord tells the tenant that there will be upcoming, immediate lease changes, this may not always be a bad thing. Why? This is one of the best times to exercise negotiation tactics. If a landlord wants [INSERT RULE HERE], this is a time when a tenant can speak up about [INSERT REQUEST HERE].

If both requests are valid, legal and not at the risk of the unit’s condition, the landlord may be willing to include the tenant’s request too. Is it possible that the landlord will only insist on her change without incorporating the tenant’s change? Yes. But it’s just as possible that the landlord will be more open to this bargaining tactic to avoid scrambling for a new tenant.

Mid-Year Lease Changes: Fight Or Sign?
Generally speaking, if there’s a rule, a fine or a specific leasing detail that was missed during the first go-round of the lease, both the landlord and tenant are better off renegotiating when the lease is being renewed. This gives the landlord enough time to plan for changes properly, or look for a new tenant. It also gives the tenant enough time to find a new rental location if the new lease rules don’t bode well for a future residency.