Can My Landlord Collect Unpaid Rent or Damages After I Vacate the Property?

Can My Landlord Collect Unpaid Rent or Damages After I Vacate the Property?

Last updated: July 2009

What Should I Do If My Former Landlord Is Suing Me To Collect Rent or Repair Costs?

If your former landlord is suing you for not paying rent or damaging the apartment, you should first try to negotiate a plan with the landlord. If you are able to make a lump sum payment, your landlord may settle the claim for a lower amount. Another option is to talk with your landlord about a payment plan.

• CAUTION: You should make sure that the payment plan details are put into a written agreement. The agreement should state the amount of the payments and when they should be paid. Also, you should make sure that both you and your landlord sign the written agreement.
• Your landlord may want to put a statement in the agreement saying that if you do not make the payments as they are written in the agreement, you will have a judgment entered against you by the court. If you agree to this, the landlord will not have to go to court to enforce the agreement.
• You should also make sure that, after all the payments are made and you no longer owe any money to your landlord, the landlord puts into writing that the claim is dismissed, “with prejudice.” Send a copy of this release to all three major credit bureaus.

What If I Cannot Come to an Agreement With My Landlord?

If you and your former landlord are unable to negotiate, you can represent yourself in court, if you are unable to hire a private attorney.

• After you receive a notice that you are being sued, you should file an appearance and pay the filing fee on the date given to you. NOTE: You may be eligible for an appearance fee waiver. Ask the clerk about the Rule 298 application;
• When you file your appearance, you will receive your first court date (usually about two weeks after the appearance);
• During the first court date, you or your landlord can usually get a “continuance” or time extension until trial. The courts will usually only grant one continuance;
• After the continuance is over (if you or your landlord asked and were granted one) the trial begins.

What Are Some Of the Defenses I Can Use If I Have to Go to Court?

If you have to go to court there are several defenses or “counterclaims” that you can bring against your landlord.

• Failure to Prove Claim:

The landlord is not able to prove that you owe anything.

• Withheld Security Deposit:

The landlord kept your security deposit and did not put the money towards the amount you owe for rent or damages.

• Mitigation:

The landlord did not try to make the rent or damages he/she is demanding from you as small as possible. For example, the landlord did not try to re-rent the apartment. Or, the landlord chose to repair something with a much more expensive alternative to what was damaged.

• Release:

The landlord said that you were released from your lease of the apartment.

• Surrender and Acceptance:

You surrendered or gave back the apartment to your landlord and the landlord accepted the apartment. By your action of surrendering and the landlord’s action of accepting you were both acting as if the lease was terminated.

• Res Judicata:

Means “a matter already judged.” The landlord has already brought you to court for an eviction suit and it was decided. The landlord cannot sue you again for the same thing in a different court.

• Habitability:

The conditions of the apartment or common areas were not safe and livable while you were living on the property. You may not be responsible for paying rent for a property that was not up to livable standards.

• Termination of Lease:

The landlord terminated the lease by evicting you. If the landlord obtains an “order of possession” and evicts you from the apartment, the landlord may waive the right to sue for the balance of the rent due after you vacated the property.

NOTE: The termination of lease defense does not apply if your lease states that termination or eviction from the apartment does not waive the landlord’s right to collect rent, and you are still liable for rent due according to the lease.

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