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As many others, I'm in a leasing pickle, and would like to better know my options.

I recently rented an apartment in Seattle for a 3-month stay (Jun 1st - Aug 31st), for $1190 monthly. On July 29th, more than 30 days before my original move-out date, I asked if I could extend my lease for an extra 9 days, since that's when my flight home was and it was more comfortable. Of course, I asked the corresponding rent, and the "property manager" (not the owner, whom I've never dealt with) told me it was $357 (*1). That worked for me, so we decided to go forward (all of this via email with the property manager of the place I was at). My contract required only a 20 days notice to move out or make changes, so everything seemed to be alright.

I moved out successfully on Sept 10th and left the place in a pristine condition. I had rented furniture which were picked up on the 11th.

About 2 days ago, after sending an email asking when my deposit refund would be mailed to me, the manager said this:

So I spoke with my manager and she told me, under no circumstances do we prorate for move out. I'm so sorry, I didn't know we didn't do that. It hadn't come up before.

Because of this you still have part of your rent due. We can keep your deposit as part of your payment, but your deposit wasnt very high so you will still have rent due. I will get the totals and let you know.

Needless to say, I am a pissed. I do not intend to pay this extra rent (which is a significant amount) since we had agreed in writing (*2) about the new rent. I also would very much like my deposit back.

My first instinct is to say exactly that, and that I will seek legal help if they do not comply. It is not my issue that the manager didn't know this, or that my manager's manager hadn't communicated it to her.

Should I? Is this a lost cause? Will I be in a world of pain to get my money? I am not living in the US anymore, so I couldn't meet in person with either them or a judge/attorney.


A few more details:

  • I payed monthly via an ACH recurring debit form, filling one for each month and choosing one-time payments, so I don't think they can just take the extra rent without my consent.

  • I imagine not paying would hurt my credit score. I do not necessarily care about it deeply, as I am not US based (but I might live there again temporarily).

  • The deposit is $298.

  • The email history with the manager is a bit messy, but I could transcribe and post it here. It was basically me asking questions and getting 1-line answers. The most relevant bit on July 29th, almost unedited is:

Me: "Say I wanted to move out on Sept 9th, what would be the rent for September in that case? Is it a full month?"

Manager: "Yes because I didn't get [20 days] notice. You would have to pay for the whole month."

Me: "But that's around 40 days from now..? In any case, moving out on Aug 31 as the lease says would be fine by me!"

Manager: "I am so sorry your right I was thinking August 9th. The rent for September would be. $357."

  • Adding to my anger is the fact that 1) the apartment was an absolute dump when I got there (filth, food in sink/oven, broken shower, ...) which I had to deal with (and got offered a $100 rent refund for, which I took) and 2) my contract specified a first-month's rent of about 50%, and when I realized I had paid more than that she replied "it appears I got the numbers wrong on your lease [...] that was for another unit". At the moment I took it as an honest mistake.

(*1) We later agreed that I would stay an extra 11 days instead, but she did not update this amount. I guess I should pay the extra two days, I seem to have missed that.

(*2) At least I hope emails count as "in writing".

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Unless your lease clearly denies the possibility of prorating, the emails are binding (and yes, emails count as in writing). The landlord ought to honor the conditions outlined in the emails, and it is not your fault that the manager was ignorant about his or her employer's/landlord's policies at the time the manager computed the prorated amount.

Additionally, if the lease only speaks in terms of 20-day notice, then it implies that prorating may apply. It is possible that the lease contains language in the sense of when the notice becomes "effective". If so, that would require a more detailed review of the language therein, since even in that scenario you might prevail on the basis of the doctrine of contra proferentem.

Here the difficult part seems to be that you are not in the US. Because the amount at issue is not high enough, the grievance/complaint would have to be filed in Small Claims court. And, as far as I know, the parties cannot be represented by a lawyer in Small Claims court. You might have to file your grievance once you are back in the US.

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    Even if the lease does prohibit prorating the specific variation (supported by consideration on both sides) would override that. – Dale M Sep 24 '18 at 5:39
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    Depending where in the US, I'd imagine many small claims courts would allow remote parties to appear via teleconference, so you may want to check if yours does. – davidgo Sep 24 '18 at 6:26
  • Thank you everyone. I'll first reply to them and see if they back down, before contacting a lawyer and all that. (If this is something stupid to do, please tell me :) ) – Guido Sep 25 '18 at 2:29
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    @Guido As for contacting a lawyer, keep in mind what I said in the sense that parties cannot be represented in Small Claims court. Thus, you might end up paying a significant portion of your refund (assuming the court decides fairly, which sometimes is a big "if") for the useless service by some lawyer. – Iñaki Viggers Sep 25 '18 at 12:56
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    After contacting them with a pretty assertive email, they've agreed to return my deposit and not charge the extra amount. Undoubtedly, having read your comments helped a lot in me knowing my rights and possible courses of actions, which reflected in the email. Thanks everyone, and Iñaki in particular, for helping out. I'm deeply grateful I didn't have to go through hell to fix this up! – Guido Sep 25 '18 at 19:53

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