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I've recently moved into an apartment in LA, and I'm on the lease with two other co-tenants. For a variety of reasons, I'm planning on moving out (it's a long story), even though all three of us tenants are on the lease until June of next year.

Conveniently, though, there is an escape clause:

Escape Clause: If the Premises are not vacated by the current renter and all personal property removed therefrom by the Start Date, either the Renter or Owner may terminate this Agreement by written notice to the other, all deposits for, or payments of other charges, shall be refunded except for payment for verification of credit, and neither Renter nor Owner shall have any further liability to the other.

And it turns out, a previous roommate (whom I'm replacing on the new lease) left a whole bunch of her stuff, many of which I didn't expect. Could this be used to enforce this escape clause?

I am extremely tempted to do so now, but there are a few concerns:

1. Proving that those are "her" property left behind (and not "given" to others)

I believe I can do this with proper documentation, but it is a concern.

2. Must I prove that her leftover property causes any "habitability problems?" According to a lawyer I spoke to, it seems like it's a clause intended for the cases where the previous renter really hasn't moved out because then, the new renter can't move in.

3. "And" statement: the conditional is phrased as a "if not A and B" where

A=premises are vacated by the Start Date, and B=all personal property removed from [the place].

A lawyer was adamant that not A and not B both must be satisfied instead of just not A or not B (which is equivalent to not (A and B)). And since not A is not true (the roommate did move out), the whole clause is not applicable. Is this true?

4. Is there a time limit for when I can apply this clause? I would like to wait until I find another suitable place to move into, but by then, what if this clause doesn't apply anymore?

5. Some suggested that this clause might only be applicable when a group of roommates moved into a new apartment (i.e. when the lease is "new") and not when a new person replaces old roommate. Is this true?

6. Are there any other loopholes you foresee in this clause?

Thanks

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    Did you have any conversation with the other housemates/master tenant about the stuff left behind? Did they promise to remove it? Did you indicate you would live with the situation as it was? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 23 at 15:41
  • @Harper-ReinstateMonica The previous roommate said she'd leave furniture for me, but she left a lot of things other than furniture, including towels, shampoo, shower mattress, candles (god dammit why candles?), bathroom cleaning utensils, etc. I didn't discuss this with my other housemates/master tenant... why is this relevant to the enforceability of this clause? Look, I want to leave this place, but I wasn't able to do so because 1) I don't know if this is applicable, and 2) it takes time to look for other places. – Bill Andriette Sep 23 at 19:57
  • Yeah what I was fishing for was whether they received notice prior to move-in. Much too late now. What is their sense of the situation? would they be happy to see you gone? Maybe a meeting of the minds is possible. Do you have the cash position to incentivize them with a concession payment or eat a month’s rental? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 23 at 20:42
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I assume you are already living there?

No, you can't use that clause, specifically because the "previous renter" is the person(s) who occupied the apartment prior to your moving in (the "start date", or the first date that your lease is valid).

That clause doesn't allow you to break the lease if one of the current renters vacates the apartment and leaves their stuff. This only means that if the apartment was not ready for you to occupy due to the previous tenant not vacating, that you are allowed to walk away from the lease without any payments (other than a credit verification fee).

This pretty much requires you to not "move in" in the first place. If you've already moved in, you don't have a legal leg to stand on since you deemed the property fit to move in (and should have done a walk-through prior to accepting the condition of the apartment).

If this is you "getting on" the lease, and the lease specifically says that you are being added and your "start date" is some date in the future that you intend to move in, you may have a leg to stand on since this is more like sub-letting individual rooms with a common area. It isn't clear to me if this is the case for you.

Once the other person is off the lease they have basically abandoned their property and you may be able to dispose of it, or have the leasing company dispose of it.

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  • Thanks for the answer. Yeah, I was wondering about the strange word choice of "current renter" and it definitely helps make things clear. – Bill Andriette Sep 22 at 21:42
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    Correct, yes, this has a plain interpretation that it is intended for situations where move-in is not practicable because of past tenant behavior. An objection based on this clause is not timely since the move-in has already occurred. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 23 at 15:46
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If the Premises are not vacated by the current renter and all personal property removed therefrom by the Start Date, [...]

The clause is pretty much in the contract to allow canceling it by either party in case the previous renter does not move out or left it wrecked: if the landlord prolongs the other lease, he can cancel your not yet started lease at the cost of having to pay you back. On the flipside, you allowed to not want to move in because the previous renter left the place full of stuff or junk - the landlord was obligated to make sure that everything was removed by that one date.

Neither is any longer the case. You moved in and not canceled the contract at that time, and by that action waived your right to cancel the lease under this clause.

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Could this be used to enforce this escape clause?

This depends on whether the contract indicates that co-tenants are dealt with "separately", that is, individually. This issue is unclear from your description and would have to be ascertained from elsewhere in the lease. For example, a lease which is not explicit about that but mentions joint-and-several liability suggests that co-tenants are considered a single entity with respect to the landlord, in which case you cannot enforce the clause individually.

Must I prove that her leftover property causes any "habitability problems?"

No. The clause is in terms of "all personal property" that should have been removed by the Start Date. The term "all" supersedes the commonplace criterion of mere habitability and what the lawyer told you.

The landlord could have adopted a less stringent term than the term "all". His choice not to do so indicates that the parties' understanding & intent of the contract implicate the entirety of said property.

"And" statement: the conditional is phrased as a "if not A and B"

The adamant lawyer's explanation is wrong and inconsistent with the argument the [same/other] lawyer gave on the preceding question. The notion that "previous renter really hasn't moved out" connotes that the renter no longer lives in the unit but his property remains there. That notion impliedly admits a distinction between renter's body and renter's property. That distinction precludes requiring that both conditions A and B are met.

If the landlord is the draftsman of the contract, also the doctrine of contra proferentem favors your position. Being the draftsman, the landlord could have formulated the conditions in a way that renders "(renter has NOT moved out) AND (renter has NOT removed his personal property)" the only reasonable interpretation. By virtue of contra proferentem, the ambiguity the draftsman introduced in the lease entitles you as counterparty to adopt the reasonable interpretation you prefer.

To summarize, you are entitled to the interpretation "(NOT a) OR (NOT b)": The renter has not moved out, or not all his personal property has been removed.

Is there a time limit for when I can apply this clause?

Enforceability of the clause began on Start Date and will expire once both conditions are met: (1) the renter has moved out; and (2) all his personal property has been removed.

That being said, past the Start Date the landlord [by default] would be entitled to prorate for the time you lived there. Otherwise, you would be what is known as "unjustly enriched" by staying for free in a unit at the landlord's expense.

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  • Interesting perspective. I am paying rent, and likely, if I ever use the term, I'll pay for the time I'll have stayed there. There are others who claim that the very fact that I moved in (for weeks) would negate the whole Clause because by virtue of having moved in, I showed that the leftover properties aren't a bother (which btw it is). Is it true? – Bill Andriette Sep 22 at 22:45
  • Also, we tenants are treated as a single unit (even though the phrase "joint and severally" is not there). But in this case, I am on the lease and X (the person being replaced) is not on the lease, and it's X who left her property. So X, B, C (let's call them) were there on the old lease, and now, I (me), B, C, are on the lease. – Bill Andriette Sep 22 at 23:05
  • I should clarify that my point is that because the property is left by someone who's not "part of the single unit" anymore, is the clause still not enforceable even if the three people (me, B, and C) are treated as a single unit? Like what's stopping any one of the three from saying "X left her property, now the escape clause!" – Bill Andriette Sep 22 at 23:17
  • @BillAndriette There is no language or information suggesting that the Escape Clause becomes null and void once the tenants move in. Clearly the Escape Clause is only in terms of the renter who (and/or whose property) no longer should be there. But treated as "single entity" does not seem to favor you, since the lease purportedly refers to the renter who preceded the single entity (X, B, C) and your inclusion therein is merely an update. A further assessment of your lease might support the opposite conclusion, but this is not apparent from the information you have provided so far. – Iñaki Viggers Sep 23 at 9:51

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