This month we are going to discuss contractual modifications of residential lease agreements. A lease agreement is a legal contract providing possession of residential premises to a tenant for a fixed duration upon set terms. There is no general contractual right to modify a legal contract – its terms remain binding on both parties for so long as it is in effect.
Question One: My tenant contacted me this afternoon and told me that her divorce decree required that we remove her former husband from the lease agreement. My owner is hesitant to remove him from the lease because he has more stable employment. Do we have to allow the removal?
No. The divorce court does not have jurisdiction to force the amendment of a contract between private parties. A landlord is not a party to a divorce action. Therefore, it is up to your owner whether you allow the removal. The divorce court can, however, require that the wife pay the full balance of the lease agreement and “sanction” her if she does not.
Question Two: My tenant contacted me this afternoon and told me that she received a Protection From Abuse against her roommate and that she wanted the roommate removed from the lease agreement. Do we have to allow the removal?
No. A Protection From Abuse has the effect of removing the abuser from the physical leased premises but it does not alter the legal and contractual relationship between landlord and tenant. Both tenants remain rent responsible.
Question Three: My tenant contacted me and told me that due to the furlough, the only way she can pay rent is if we add her daughter to the lease agreement. Do we have to add her?
No. While your company may elect to add the leaseholder to further guarantee payment, you are under no affirmative obligation to do so. The tenant remains rent responsible through the balance of the lease term despite the furlough. If the tenant allows the daughter to move in over your express refusal, she is in default under the lease agreement and can be evicted for having an unauthorized occupant.
Remember – life is fluid, but a legal contract is not. It is incumbent upon a landlord or property manager to verify that the lease agreement reflects up-to-date occupancy information and that security deposits are handled appropriately when parties are added or removed from lease agreements. You should have a consistent policy with regards to additions and removals from in-effect residential lease agreements.