Inconsistent actions by landlord free tenant from future rents

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A tenant’s default creates alternative remedies for a landlord, and landlords must be clear and consistent in choosing the remedy that best protects their interests. A recent BC case emphasizes the pitfalls that await landlords who fail to do so. In Stearman v. Powers, the tenant had stopped paying rent and a month later vacated the premises, telling the landlord that he was terminating the lease due to alleged defaults in the premises (these alleged defaults were later rejected by the court). The landlord did not accept this termination and sued the tenant in Small Claims Court for each month’s rent. 

Over the next months, however, the landlord or his agent entered the premises dozens of times without notice to the tenant to inspect the premises, carry out repairs, and show the premises for possible rent or sale. After two years the landlord started a court action for all unpaid rent and for future rent due for the remainder of the lease.

The court held that the landlord’s actions were not consistent with upholding the lease, but instead were consistent with acceptance of the tenant’s termination of the lease. The landlord might have re-entered the premises as the tenant’s agent to re-let on the tenant’s behalf, thereby preserving the lease, but the landlord failed to give the tenant any notice of this stance, and so must be taken to have accepted the tenant’s termination of the lease, freeing the tenant from any further obligation to pay rent for the rest of the lease term. The failure to clearly and consistently pursue his remedies left the landlord with a much-reduced claim against the tenant.

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