When a tenant renting space in a commercial shopping center decides to vacate the premises before the end of their lease, a landlord can collect on the remaining rent for the full length of time stated in the lease. Some business owners mistakenly believe they are discharged from the responsibility of paying further rents once they willfully vacate a landlord’s property. In South Carolina, however, the state Supreme Court has held that a landlord can recover the full amount of rent expected from a tenant’s completion of a lease’s term because a lease is considered an enforceable contract.
When a commercial landlord and tenant enter into a lease, and the tenant decides to vacate early and stop paying rent, it is considered a breach of contract. In many cases (possibly excluding certain types of bankruptcies), the landlord can file a legal action which is enforceable by South Carolina law. Left with an abandoned rental property, the landlord can sue the former tenant for breach of contract and seek damages in the amount of the rent owed for the remaining months (or years) left in the lease. The landlord can also seek any other damages such as those for repairs, legal fees, and other expenses, resulting from the tenant abandoning the property.
When a tenant is sued for breaching a lease, he might argue that the amount of damages the landlord is claiming is unjust based on a belief that the landlord has an obligation to reduce their damages by finding another tenant to rent the space. Vacating a property in South Carolina, however, does not release the tenant from further liability for the remaining rent as ruled by the South Carolina Supreme Court in Sur. Realty Corp. v. Asmer (1967). Even if a replacement tenant is found quickly, the court can still rule in the landlord’s favor.
In one case in Charleston, the landlord entered into a seven-year lease agreement with a doctor to rent space in a commercial shopping center. After the tenant vacated the property before the end of the lease, the landlord brought an action against the doctor for breach of contract and sought damages in the amount of rent for the remaining years of the lease. The doctor argued that she was not liable because the landlord sold the property for a handsome profit, but the court awarded the landlord more than $1.6 million in damages.
If you are the owner of a commercial property unit that has been leased and then abandoned by a tenant, you may not have to suffer the unexpected loss of anticipated rental income. You may be able to sue for damages in the amount of the remaining rent plus other unexpected expenses. One of Duffy & Young’s seasoned and knowledgeable attorneys can answer your questions and assist you in recovering your loss of expected rental income. Call us or contact us online to learn more.