Breaking a lease is breaking the law, know your rights as a lessee

We signed a contract with an owner to move on August 1st, and the deposit was paid the day before. At 3pm, he told our real estate agent that he will return the deposit and the first month rent because he felt that he did not receive the money early enough (the contract did not stipulate when it should be paid as long as it is before the moving date, which we did). We are now looking for a new place and had to pay the moving company a fee for last minute cancellation. We believe that the owner broke the contract and owe us two months rent as per the contract. Are you able to help on this matter?

It seems that your situation is not uncommon in Vietnam as many lessees, especially foreigners but not limited to, don’t often get along with their lessors. Fortunately, the law allows these types of problem to be solved, particularly the Law on Housing 65/2014/QH13 dated on November 25, 2014.

Article 121 of this law states that all the requirements of a housing contract must be respected in order to be legally effective. This contract needs to be mutually agreed upon between the contracting parties, which is quite common for a contract. In addition, the parties to such housing contract must conclude it by writing, which means that you need to have signed a proper contract: Whether paper version with ink signature or electronic version with proper electronic signature.

More accurately, clauses 4 and 5 of Article 121 of the Law on Housing stipulate that the housing contract must comprise the deadlines and methods
of payment regarding transactions in lease and lease term. It means that any specific requirement in terms of deadlines associated with payment under the housing contract must be clearly provided in the housing contract. If your owner had wished to receive the rent six months in advance, for example, this needed to be clearly stated in the housing contract.

Regarding your specific question, I understand that your housing contract did not specifically mention that the deposit must be paid within a certain period prior to the first day of housing lease, i.e. August 1st. As the law does not contain any mandatory provisions with respect to such delay, you had no obligation to pay the deposit as early as the lessor wished.

In addition, I understand from your situation that the lessor’s decision that you cannot move in was taken by the lessor and communicated to you on August 1st, which means on the first day of your lease term. The issue (for the lessor, not for you), if that the law, though not providing specific provisions with respect to deadlines for payment of deposits, do provide specific provisions with respect to time limitations for termination of a housing contract.

The law outlines the differences between two situations: First, where the parties to the housing contract have provided for a specific lease term (for example, rent of the house for one year, two years, etc.). Second, where the parties to the housing contract have not provided any term: jurists say that the contract has been concluded for an unlimited term.

In the first case, the law provides that no party may decide to end the housing contract, except in exceptional cases. For example, if the lessor wishes to end the housing contract, they must be able to prove that the lessee has failed to pay the rent as agreed, for three or more months, without a legitimate reason, or has sublease the house to someone else without the lessor’s consent. And even in such specific cases, the lessor must send to the lessee a 30- day notice before being able to actually end the housing contract.

For the second situation (contract with an unlimited term), the law simply states that the lessor may end the contract but must send to the lessee a 90-day notice. And, as a general rule, if a party does not comply with its obligations in terms of advance notice, it must pay compensation for prejudice caused by it.

To come back to your specific situation, I understand from your relation of facts that the lessor agreed to sign a housing contract with you and on the first day of the lease term required you to move out and returned the deposit and first month rent. Based on the legal provisions described above, it seems that this would not be in compliance with the law.

You would say that I am biased in giving this advice, but I strongly believe that people in general should more often seek legal advice from lawyers, even for cases that may appear too small at first. This is a good habit because everyone should be aware of their rights. So, my final advice would be to gather all the relevant documents (your housing contract, email exchanges, bank statements for the payment of the deposit and the rent, etc.) and meet a lawyer to confirm your exact rights and seek fair compensation if appropriate!