Ask LH: Can I Reject My Lease Because Of A Furniture Switch?

Ask LH: Can I Reject My Lease Because Of A Furniture Switch?

Dear Lifehacker, I am a frequent renter, currently searching for a new place. I recently viewed a property that was advertised as ‘Fully Furnished’. After seeing the property, I immediately said yes. It was furnished well and the decor was excellent.

After signing up (but before bond exchange), the agent informed me the owner had removed everything inside the apartment leaving only bed, sofa, fridge/freezer, TV, dining table and chairs. The agent was just as shocked as I was, and has been trying to get the owner to add crockery, cutlery, vacuum cleaner and so on to bring it up to ‘Fully Furnished’ status. Do I have any rights to not move in? Thanks, Under-Furnished Renter

Old furniture picture from Shutterstock

Dear UFR,

During the inspection, did the real estate agent indicate that the landlord intended to remove some of the furniture/appliances? If not, then you’re perfectly entitled to expect the place to look like it did during the tour. What’s the point of inspecting a ‘fully furnished’ property if the owner is going to pull the old switcheroo?

That said, we’re not entirely sure what your legal rights are in this situation and we suspect they may vary from state to state. We contacted our local Tenants Advice and Advocacy Service who bluntly told us that “a couch is a couch and bed is a bed”.

However, they did indicate that you could probably get out of your lease by contacting the tenants’ service in your area. They’ll then help you to tailor a case as to why you should be released from your tenancy agreement. You can find a list of official tenants services for each state and territory here.

Have any readers experienced a similar issue while renting? Let us know how you dealt with it in the comments section below.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • I’m sure there are some specialty property laws regarding this – but from a basic legal standpoint it is at worst false and deliberately misleading advertising, which can instantly invalidate any contract.

    That said, when you signed your lease – as part of that for a furnished place, they are required to give you an inventory of what is there. If they did not and you signed it anyway, then you could face issues, since as far as you have seen the inventory is null at the time of signing, so it’s two separate issues.

    For the first, you would have to take it to court if the realtor did not agree to void it for you. For the latter, you would have to rely on the first (false advertising) being enough to get you off.

    Remember, it’s always your responsibility when signing something to know what is and is not included IN WRITING. Anything from advertising or anecdotal evidence (such as your inspection of the property) is basically a “promise”, and I don’t know about you – but i’m certainly not in the habit of taking any business on just their word, because as you say in this case especially it may be entirely out of their hands and lies with the owner, thus they are unable to make any promise to you – but can guarantee you whatever is specified within your lease, otherwise THEY would have a legal issue with the OWNER.

    Personally i’d just have a frank discussion with the realtor, by the sounds they had no idea – and mentioning you feel its false advertising may be enough for them to agree and void it immediately.

    Also why does Chrome want me to capitalise realtor? >.

    • Chrome has no issue with lower case realtor for me apart from the fact it doesn’t recognise it at all!

    • Honestly? Crockery and utensils aren’t furniture so it’s fair they’re taken away. Likewise a vacuum cleaner is an appliance not furniture.

      Do you want the landlord to supply you with a toothbrush and underpants too?

      • It’s misrepresentation, why would you give your money to someone deliberately trying to cheat you? Because they’re going to be a fair and reasonable landlord?

        • I don’t think it’s misrepresentation. They said fully furnished but the cutlery etc are not furniture. So it’s not really misleading, he’s getting what they said he’d get.

          Then utensils could have been the previous tenants property as in often the case when they display homes with people still occupying them.

          Like when families sell their homes it is unreasonable to expect them to include all the contents in the sale and just as unreasonable to have them move all their contents into storage during the sale.

          • That would not be misleading if the realtor had said when they were viewing it “the current tennant has not moved out” or anything indicating the terms might change. If you are led to believe that something is included, which then is not included – and especially in this case where the realtor clearly EXPECTED it to be included, then it IS misleading.

            It doesn’t matter if it’s toothpicks, it’s still misleading, and as he says with their realtor being shocked – they are obviously aware of this. Just because something is cheap or easily available really makes no difference, nor does the term ‘fully furnished’ which as you say could be entirely subjective.

          • I guess two sayings come to mine; caveat emptor and assumption is the mother of all f’ups

            He/She is an adult and it is not the realtors responsibility to hold their hand. Ultimately they should have asked what was included. I do not think that appliances and cutlery fall under “Fully Furnished”

  • if the realtor is as shocked as you then they should void the contract themselves, which they have the rights to do, if they dont then they are siding with the owner and not you so be wary.

    • As per my post above, there could be complications with allowing them to do so, it’s a blame game and to do so could be to potentially leave themselves open to losing thousands when it may not be their fault, even if they are shocked.

  • Good luck, that’s about the only words you can give to renters with any degree of confidence.

    You might be able to get out of your lease because of contract law, but residential rental laws cause havoc with things like that. The description given sounds “fully furnished” to me, and it may to others, that vagueness is the downfall, unless you had every single spoon and plate listed on the contract, how can either party prove one way or the other what was or wasn’t included?

  • Irrespective of “the letter of the law” judges have brains and often a lot of discretion aren’t going to look too favorably on the landlord in such a case.

    Most likely you’d go to a residential tenancies tribunal where other factors like the general merits of the case could be taken into account in any decision or order made.

    If you break a lease or any other contract, the lessor has a duty to mitigate his loss – meaning you’re only liable for rent / advertising until he finds another tenant and he’d need to make reasonable efforts to do so on the same terms.

    In terms of the agent backing up your story – they’ll be under oath and won’t perjor themselves to defend a dodgy property owner who has caused them, and you, that amount of grief.

    Civil standards of proof only require facts to be made out on “balance of probabilities” (ie. “more likely than not”) so with the agent giving evidence you could easily make out the facts at issue.

    And you’ve got consumer protection law dealing with “Misleading or Deceptive Conduct” and what the landlord did, I would think, should squarely sit within that.

  • My experience is that most landlords talk tough but s**t themselves if you start to pursue your actual rights.

    Threaten to take them to the tenants tribunal, or whatever the equivalent is in your state. Thanks to our ridiculous negative gearing laws there are a lot of “landlords” out there who are really just mum/dad investors who think renting out a house is easy money and that tenants ought to just be grateful someone is letting them live in their capital growth investment while it appreciates in value for them. The second they actually have to face the legal system they go to water.

    Can’t hurt to write the letter anyway. Go via the tenants union if you need help writing legalistic sounding letters demanding your rights.

  • I would explain that they have breached the contract on their side and give them 7 days notice.

  • When viewing open houses, I’ve almost always seen them as “Fully furnished”, but the realtor goes out of their way to state “The apartment will be leased unfurnished” – I always assume it will be unfurnished now, but still ask just in case I missed them stating it wasn’t.

    • To be honest I only think about it at all because everything in a place when I move in is a liability to my bond since they can charge arbitrary amounts for even basic things like cutlery – so I check the inventory they give me (and make sure they give me one before signing along with the condition report), then pack it all away ready for when I move out.

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