Q: Principal tenant amended the terms of the contract after we signed it
My roommate and I are both international students who signed a rental agreement with a person who was subletting her apartment to us (California). The rental agreement was an ePDF and we electronically signed it and sent it to her in May 2019 through Whatsapp. However, she changed the late fee terms (increased it to 10 dollars from 2 dollars per day) after we signed the contract and after changing this, signed it and sent the copy to us. Now she is claiming that we owe her upwards of 200 dollars in late fee for 15 days late rent payment. She also breached the contract once by suddenly coming to the apartment without giving us a one day notice. What can we do to get our security deposit back?
A: You have represented 2 issues; however, without knowing all of the facts this should not be considered legal advice.
(1) The landlord unilaterally changed the terms of the lease after you signed it. Of course she cannot do that and she must adhere to the original terms that she forwarded to you. Forwarding the draft to you is the equivalent of her signing it. The problem is were you able to download the initial lease with your signature? If not, you have a problem of proof, although you have a roommate that should be able to verify your version.
That being said you can refuse to pay her version of the late fees, tender the amount for $2.00 per day and have a paper trail of proof. She may decide to evict you claiming failure to pay the late fees. You can also move out claiming constructive eviction and let her sue you thereafter for breach of contract. On the other hand, $200 is not a lot of money to be fighting over. You may want to consider offering to pay the $200 if she agrees to let you out of the lease with a 30-day termination date.
(2) Coming to your apartment without giving a 24 hour notice is not necessarily a breach of the agreement. If she entered the apartment without giving notice and without your consent that is a breach. Assuming she did that, what are your damages? Probably not much; however, a violation of your privacy without giving notice may be a basis for constructive eviction to break the lease, although I don’t think that is a slam dunk.
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