When you rent an apartment, you sign a lease. Signing this lease is a binding agreement and legal contract. This written contract exists between two or more parties and notes that each party agrees to certain obligations.
For example, a leaseholder such as a landlord agrees to rent a two-bedroom apartment to the renter, or lessee or tenant. The contract also includes other important details like the dates of rental, the rental amount, the rent due date and other agreed-upon terms. The parties will create a new contract (or amendment to the original contract) when something significant changes (such as a change in rent) or different parties become involved (such as a building being sold and new building management company taking over).
It's often thought a contract benefits the landlord but renters have rights, too.
Since a contract generally falls under the title of a lease when it comes to renting an apartment, a lease is a contract. A breach of contract occurs when one of the parties involved does not meet the obligations of the agreement. Examples of contract breaches include a tenant no longer paying their rent or a landlord who doesn't make necessary repairs to keep their unit safe.
A material breach of contract is when there's a major failure to perform contractual obligations.
If there is a failure to perform minor contract obligations, then a non-material or minor breach has occurred.
Whether something is a minor or material breach is sometimes easy to determine and other times it depends on the circumstances.
For example, a lease might note the complex is building a pool. And access to the pool is part of your lease. While they're building the pool, it's coming slowly. You may not get to enjoy the pool before your lease ends. Is that a breach of contract? It's hard to get any legal remedy since they are building the pool.
If the construction of the pool never began and the landlord decides to use that space for something else, that's a material or minor breach of contract. The non-breaching party might have an argument here.
Sometimes, it's hard to understand when a breach occurs based on the terms you hear. What is an actual vs. anticipatory breach, for example? What's the difference or is there a difference at all? Any legal concept or contract is challenging to figure out if this isn't something you do on a daily basis. An actual breach refers to a breach that occurred. This means the breaching party failed to complete a specific performance specified in the contract.
According to Cornell Law School, "in contract law, an anticipatory breach occurs when a party repudiates prior to the date that the performance is due. An anticipatory breach is an excuse for non-performance by the non-breaching party. A party can retract its anticipatory breach provided that the non-breaching party has not relied on it."
A contract breach is another way to say breach of contract. A breach occurs when either party involved does something to violate the terms of the agreement. The non-breaching party can seek legal help to determine the next steps and to see if they can sue for any sort of damage. Punitive damages are usually not awarded when there is a breach of contract when it comes to a lease agreement.
According to The University of New Mexico Judicial Education Center, "punitive damages (also called “exemplary damages") are awarded to punish or make an example of a wrongdoer who has acted willfully, maliciously or fraudulently. Unlike compensatory damages intended to cover actual loss, punitive damages punish the wrongdoer for egregious behavior and to deter others from acting in a similar manner. The court awards punitive damages in addition to compensatory damages."
You should put all leases in writing. It's hard to have a contract case or to show one or more parties are at fault or show a breach occurred when you don't have a contract in writing. How can you prove a specific performance wasn't completed by certain parties or there was a breach of contract if all you have is a verbal agreement?
There are many reasons why a breach of contract might occur or contract obligations are unmet. There are also reasons a contract is in place. Parties generally don't want to get in breach of contract.
If someone feels a breach occurred or there are specific performance issues that haven't been met, usually one party (the non-breaching party) will reach out to the other party to let them know of the alleged breach of contract. They may remind the breaching party of unmet contractual obligations and point to the contract or lease. If the breaching party refuses to acknowledge the breach occurred, and you feel you're owed for damages or want to break your lease, it's wise to bring those legal issues and contract to a lawyer or seek legal help.
Some municipalities and cities offer legal assistance to tenants if they decide to file a claim with small claims court. A legal concept isn't always easy for a layperson to understand. And there are lawyers who specialize in contract law and know how to prepare for a contract lawsuit.
It's hard to determine if there is a breach of contract when a contract doesn't exist. Having something in writing, especially a binding contract like an apartment or lease agreement, helps both parties understand what's expected of them. This lessens the risk of one of the parties breaching a contract.