My landlord didn’t countersign my lease and now he's ghosting me. How do I get the apartment?
- A market-rate apartment lease isn’t binding until the landlord signs it
- If you put down a holding fee, you can repudiate the lease and get it back
I signed a lease for a new apartment with a property manager. The landlord, however, hasn’t countersigned it, and his office won’t accept my first month’s rent or security deposit. He is ghosting my broker, who I paid $1,000 to hold the unit. I need to move in a week. What are my options?
Unless your would-be-landlord signs and returns the lease, you don’t have a right to the apartment, according to our experts.
A market-rate lease is only binding when signed by both the tenant and landlord, says Sam Himmelstein, a partner at Himmelstein McConnell Gribben & Joseph (and a Brick sponsor FYI). He calls it the Stevie Wonder rule, because the document has to be “signed, sealed, [and] delivered” before the apartment is yours (though Himmelstein notes that no one really seals their documents anymore).
If you had already moved in and your landlord had failed to send you a renewal lease, you would simply become a month-to-month tenant. Unfortunately, you have no way to make your would-be-landlord to sign the lease for an apartment you’re not currently living in, says attorney Jennifer Rozen, president and owner of the Rozen Law Group.
“There's nothing that the tenant can do to force the landlord to execute the lease and put them into possession,” Rozen says. “Especially where the tenant hasn't paid first or last month's rent or moved in.”
But you should be able to get your holding fee back. Himmelstein recommends that you repudiate the lease by writing a letter to your landlord stating that you no longer wish to rent the apartment and want the holding fee returned. You should deliver this letter as soon as possible, because if your landlord does return a signed copy of your lease, it will be binding.
The broker who took your holding fee is obligated to return your cash because they’re acting on behalf of the landlord, Himmelstein added.
“The broker is acting like an escrow agent of the landlord to hold that apartment, so I would say even though it's the broker [who took the fee], he would be entitled to get the fee back,” Himmelstein says.
If the broker refuses to return the money, Rozen recommends filing a small claims court case to force them to pay up.
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