Early-move-out fees sting some temporary Puget Sound tech workers, even in a feverish rental market

At least some on the Eastside are being slapped with big fees for breaking apartment leases — even when the landlord can turn around and immediately re-rent the unit.

When Dilipkumar Dondapati’s contract for a software-engineering project ended, and he was offered a new job in California, he gave notice on the Kendall Ridge apartment he had rented for seven years in the Crossroads area of Bellevue.

The apartment-management company reminded him that his yearly lease required an early-move-out fee equal to two months rent, or $3,500 for breaking his contract.

Faced with such a steep penalty, and with five months remaining on the lease, Dondapati said he informed the manager before the end of the month that he and his family would stay after all.

But the company told him that his unit had been re-rented. He would have to leave as planned and would still owe the early-termination fee.

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Contract technology workers in the region are being hit with big fees for breaking apartment leases — even in a hot rental market where landlords can turn around and quickly rent to someone else. The foreign-born workers often don’t complain, their friends say, worried that they’ll jeopardize their immigration status or hurt their chances of renting anywhere else. Other tech renters say they feel they have no recourse once they’ve signed a lease if they’re dissatisfied with the condition of the unit or the customer service offered by the apartment management.

The state Attorney General’s Office opened 91 complaints in 2017 involving residential landlord-tenant issues and property-managment companies, said spokeswoman Brionna Aho. But she added that the office’s Consumer Protection Division can’t investigate the complaints under the state’s Landlord Tenant Act but must refer people to other resources, most of which are available only for low-income renters

That leaves higher-income renters weighing whether it’s worth it to pay a lawyer to try to resolve a lease dispute or walk away from what may seem like an unfair penalty.

Dondapati, a native of India and in the U.S. on a highly skilled worker visa, was reluctant to challenge the early-move-out fee at Kendall Ridge. He said the apartment manager told him that the debt would be turned over to a collection agency and lower his credit score.

He said he finished a project in Seattle on a Friday night and…

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