I am an American citizen who moved to the Philippines with my Filipino-American girlfriend for seven months this February. She procured a condo for us to stay in for six months with the help of her PATERNAL grandmother (a "former" realtor). The contract, signed by my girlfriend (henceforth, "Jen") and her MATERNAL grandmother (note the capitalization for distinction between grandmothers, henceforth abandoned), was not only not read by the owner- she did not even draft the lease agreement herself; rather, the owner asked the paternal grandmother to write the lease for her.
Despite our intentions to fulfill our agreement, tragedy changed our course. Less than two months after our arrival, Jen's maternal grandfather passed away. A few weeks later, we decided we should move into the maternal family home, not only to provide more emotional support for the grandmother/family, but also to provide financial support by renting a room in the family home, as the death has left the family business suffering as well.
After reviewing the lease, we believed we had a right to move out, based on the following clause: "[...] and the LESSEE shall not remove a major portion of their furnitures or equipments and such removal without the knowledge or consent of the LESSORS shall be construed to be that the LESSEE intends to move out of the leased premises and any breach of any conditions thereof shall be a ground for the automatic cancellation or termination of this agreement or contract of lease and the LESSEE shall be ejected from the leased premises; 5. [...]" (note, the 1st part of section 4, the 1st [...], just says we can not sublease the unit).
So, does not "automatic cancellation or termination" mean just that? Once we decided to move, we first told her paternal grandmother, who offered to tell the owner. After hearing nothing, we texted (after trying to call) the owner informing her of our decision. Since it was near the beginning of the month of April at this point, we told her we would pay for the month of April and our final Meralco and water bills in addition to allowing her to keep the deposit (the amount of which was one month's rent). Still, she did not answer us (as was the case when we first moved in and the water heater did not work; and no, she never did repair it, nor did she reimburse Jen after she paid to fix the stove vent. In fact, we never heard from her, despite repeated phone calls and messages, since the day we moved in.) However, when we attempted to remove the 2nd half of our stuff, the guards asked if we were moving out. We told them yes, and they told us we needed clearance from the condo administration (despite the fact that no one signed any documents with the condo building or administration). They then called the owner, who magically answered right away. Needless to say, we were not allowed to leave. However, in accordance with the lease (in our minds), we nonetheless moved our stuff a small amount at a time over the period of a week. Meanwhile, the owner was threatening us, via text message, with reporting us to the NBI. We tried to come to an agreement based on our conditions mentioned above through the paternal grandmother, but the owner still demanded another two month's rent in addition to our concessions. After we finished moving all of our stuff, we informed the owner that we had cleared the apartment, cancelled the remaining checks, and were paying the final bills and that we would like to give her the keys somehow. She told us, via text (ie, on record), to leave the keys with the administration. We attempted to do so on the day she instructed us to, but when the administration called the owner, she claimed she was not letting us move-out.
Today, she deposited the 1st of the checks that we told her was cancelled (technically, a "stop payment" was placed on it; the fact that we told her the checks were cancelled is on record via text as well), for which the bank charged us a PHP2,000 fee. Then, she informed us the check bounced, asked us to "meet her in the middle(??)" and return the keys via the paternal grandmother. If not, she threatened to charge us with estafa (a term she probably learned from her husband, who is a lawyer).
Now, I'm less concerned about the estafa charge, as she can't prove that (though feel free to correct my assumption). We are more concerned with her ability to sue for collection of payment. Given the clause in the contract she did not bother to read, let alone write, are we in the clear or should we be concerned? What legal action could she take against us?
Thank you so much, in advance, for your advice.