Breaking a Lease to Take a Job
Breaking your apartment lease to take a job in another location is not a valid legal reason for terminating a yearly lease before its end date. Leases are binding legal contracts, and renters face significant consequences if they break them early. These consequences range from a penalty fee to a negative mark on your rental record or credit score.
This article explores how tenants can legally break a lease and alternative options if they can't end the contract early.
Legal Reasons to Break a Lease
In some states, landlord-tenant and state laws allow a renter to end a fixed-term lease early for precise reasons. These include:
- Moving to an assisted care facility
- Being a victim of domestic violence
- Active military duty in the armed forces under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act
- If the rental unit becomes uninhabitable
Your rental agreement may even include an early termination clause that allows the renter to break the lease early after giving sufficient written notice.
In states like Illinois, victims of domestic violence can end their lease early without liability for the remaining rent. Illinois' Safe Home Act lays out two criteria for early termination:
- The tenant or a member of their household was under a credible and imminent threat of domestic or sexual violence.
- The tenant gives the landlord at least a three-day notice, citing this credible imminent threat.
Active Military Service
Members of the U.S. armed forces, including the following, can break their lease early if called into active duty:
- Activated National Guard members
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Corps
- Commissioned Corps of the Public Health Service
Although the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act is a federal law, states such as Florida may issue guidelines to use this act.
Under Florida law, active-duty armed forces must give their landlord or property manager proper notice (at least 30 days) before terminating their lease.
Warranty of Habitability
Every lease includes an implied warranty of habitability, which ensures renters have a livable home. State laws and local safety codes often outline the aspects included in this implied warranty. They include:
- Running water
- Hot water
- Working plumbing
- A pest-free environment
If the rental property is not habitable, and your landlord hasn't fixed these issues, you can end your tenancy in many states before the lease expires. Lease-breaking should not be your first choice. You should give your landlord notice and an opportunity to fix the issues.
If none of the preceding reasons apply, you should explore other options to reduce liability. You agreed to pay a fixed monthly rent when you signed your lease agreement. If you break your lease, you are still responsible for monthly rent for the remainder of the lease term.
However, some actions can reduce the amount of money you owe to your landlord. They include:
- The landlord re-renting the property
- Subleasing the rental unit
- A lease buyout
Re-Rent the Property
In most states, a landlord must, through reasonable efforts, mitigate the damages by attempting to re-rent the property after a tenant breaks a lease. The landlord, however, does not have to rent to unqualified tenants or rent the property below the fair market value.
If the landlord does not attempt to find a new renter but chooses to sue the tenant, most courts will not award the landlord the entire balance left on the lease. Instead, they will determine if the landlord has reasonably tried to rent the property. The court will determine how much the tenant has to pay.
If the landlord re-rents the property, the tenant is only responsible for paying for the time the rental unit was vacant.
Sublease the Rental Unit
A tenant may try subletting the property if the lease allows it. They may also try to find a replacement tenant to rent the property. The landlord is not under any duty to rent to this prospective tenant. However, if the landlord refuses to rent to a qualified tenant and later sues the tenant, a court may rule for the tenant because the landlord refused to mitigate the damages.
A tenant may offer the landlord a lease buyout. Buying out a lease means paying the landlord money in exchange for releasing the tenant from the lease early. For example, a tenant may pay a month's rent or allow the landlord to keep the security deposit in exchange for the landlord's agreement.
The agreement should be in writing. This should include a clause stating that the tenant is breaking the lease agreement by moving out early and that the landlord agrees to the termination in exchange for a payment.
Whether it's because of a new job or another reason, if you're considering lease termination, you should speak to an experienced landlord-tenant attorney. These lawyers are experts in landlord-tenant law and can give you legal advice about tenant rights. Speak to a qualified local landlord-tenant attorney today.
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