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  • I'm not a US citizen.
  • I have a rental contract for a shared student accommodation (en suite room).
  • Due to unforeseen personal circumstances, I had to leave the US.

Of course, I understand that I am legally obliged to honor the contract. However, now my circumstances have changed and I cannot afford to, now that I am no longer in the country.

Could people please advise me on what may happen in the following scenarios:

  1. I refuse to pay, and stay in my country (somewhere in Europe)
  2. I refuse to pay, but return to the US in the future:
    • on a student visa
    • on a work visa (H1-B)
    • as a tourist on an ESTA
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    Did you try to terminate the lease? There are usually lease terms and statutory provisions that allow termination without having to pay rent for the entire lease period. Typically if the landlord finds a new tenant you are no longer liable to pay. But statutory provisions vary from state to state. In some cases they even depend on the municipality.
    – phoog
    Oct 25, 2022 at 23:06

1 Answer 1

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When you breach a contract, you can get sued in local court, and if you don't show up to defend yourself, default judgment will be entered against you. Then the aggrieved party will have to collect, but the court in Washington (to invent a jurisdiction) can't enforce an order against a person in Norway (to invent another jurisdiction). So the aggrieved party would need to take enforcement of the judgment to the Norwegian courts. In the actual case of Norway, this is fairly simple, you just call an attorney in Norway to do the paperwork. It might be harder if the other jurisdiction is Belarus.

If you return to the US, even if there is a money judgment against you for the rent owed, you will not be arrested for that debt. Depending on the state (about half of the states), you might be arrested for failing to comply with a court order to pay the debt. The difference lies in refusing to comply with a court order, versus simply having a debt.

The State Department conveniently lists the reasons for denying a visa. Owing money or having an uncollected judgment against you is not one of the possible reasons, in fact even having been ordered by a court to pay, ignoring the order, and the court issuing an arrest warrant does not make you inadmissible.

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    I'll add that you might simple contact the property owner/manager and see if you can work out a mutually acceptable payment agreement.
    – jwh20
    Oct 25, 2022 at 20:01
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    There is almost never a court order to simply pay the debt outside of a domestic relations case (i.e. usually child support nonpayment), but there may be an order to provide information about your assets in a state court case that could lead to arrest. In cases where there is an order to pay the debt, inability to pay the debt if proven, is a complete defense to the order.
    – ohwilleke
    Oct 25, 2022 at 21:19
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    It's not exactly a legal question but the asker might also like to know what non-legal consequences there may be for them if they return to the States. I'm thinking their credit record will have a default/non-payment on it and their credit score may be low. That means if they want to rent again in the US or buy a car, etc., they may be denied and/or have to pay a much higher interest rate on loans. Oct 26, 2022 at 5:25
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    There is, of course, no benefit in trying to get blood from a stone. Writing a tear-jerking letter to the landlord explaining that you've moved to a slum to care for your elderly grandmother will almost certainly result in them writing off the debt, rather than fruitlessly suing you for it
    – Richard
    Oct 26, 2022 at 6:50
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    @Richard: IMHO it depends on the landlord. Some will just shrug and sell the debt to a collections agency.
    – Kevin
    Oct 26, 2022 at 16:50

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