A landlord can sue each tenant who signed a lease to recover unpaid rent. Verbal rental agreements are harder to prove in court, but that may not keep a landlord from filing suit. A couple should consider that each of their credit reports will show any court judgments issued against them over unpaid rent, causing major damage to their credit scores. Their credit scores also will drop if a landlord reports unpaid rent to a collection agency.
Breaking a Lease
Landlords can sue former tenants without a lawyer by taking their cases to small claims court. Some landlords sue when tenants move out before their lease expires if their security deposit doesn't cover the unpaid rent. They also may sue tenants who rent from month-to-month and don't give the required amount of notice before moving out. Leaseholders who give their landlord notice before breaking a lease may face a lawsuit if they don't pay penalties outlined in the lease for leaving early.
Landlords rarely consider it worth the time and court costs to sue a tenant who owes a month's worth of rent or less, according to Nolo. However, tenants who cause significant damage to their apartments, or leave them filthy, may be sued even if they don't owe much rent. Landlords in such situations usually get estimates on what it would cost to repair or clean an apartment and sue the former tenants to recoup those costs along with any unpaid rent.
In order to have a stronger chance at winning a claim, landlords in most states are required to try to re-rent an apartment as quickly as possible when a tenant breaks a lease and moves, according to Nolo. States generally expect landlords to take responsibility for limiting their own financial losses. So, they often can't sue to collect any portion of rent that a judge determines they could have reasonably recovered by re-renting an abandoned apartment.
Tenants may feel justified in breaking a lease and not paying the remaining rent if their apartments are uninhabitable. Uninhabitable apartments generally have problems that are serious enough to risk the health or safety of tenants. You would have to prove that such risks existed to fight a lawsuit brought by your landlord to collect unpaid rent. You also would need to show that no one living in your apartment created the problems that caused you to break the lease.
Frances Burks has more than 15 years experience in writing positions, including work as a news analyst for executive briefings and as an Associated Press journalist. Burks has banking and business development experience, and she has written numerous articles on consumer issues and home improvement. Burks holds a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Michigan.