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Breaking Lease Due to Termites

A lease agreement is a legally binding contract between a tenant and a landlord. Breaking a lease comes with significant penalties, like paying out the balance of the contract. However, there are a few circumstances in which tenants can break their leases without penalties. An untreated pest infestation is one such reason.

Pest infestations are often detrimental to human health and safety. Termites, in particular, are tiny, destructive pests. Whether a new tenant or a longtime renter, you should address infestation problems immediately.

This FindLaw article focuses on breaking your lease because of a termite infestation.

The Implied Warranty of Habitability

The law reads an implied warranty of habitability into lease and rental agreements. All landlords must ensure their rental properties are safe for human health and safety. Under this warranty, landlords must substantially comply with local building codes. Here are a few examples of things covered under an implied warranty of habitability:

  • Running water
  • Hot water
  • Heat
  • Pest control (including pest prevention from roaches, fleas, bed bugs, rodents, etc.)
  • Working electrical systems
  • Working plumbing

Options if Your Rental Unit Is Uninhabitable

If your landlord is not substantially complying with your local building codes, you have several options. A few examples of those:

  • Reporting your landlord to the local housing authority
  • Withholding rent until they comply
  • Breaking your lease

Withholding rent and breaking your lease are serious lease violations. You should consult with an attorney before attempting either on your own.

When Can I Break My Lease?

These are some of the situations where a tenant can break a lease.

  • When allowed by law: Some laws allow tenants to break a lease. For instance, the Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act allows people who have enlisted in the military to break a lease if they get called for active duty.
  • When the rental property becomes uninhabitable: This can occur due to natural disasters like earthquakes or tornadoes. Artificial conditions may also render the property uninhabitable.
  • When the landlord breaks the terms of the lease: Landlord-tenant laws list many requirements with which the landlord must comply. These include maintaining the property and respecting the tenant's right to quiet enjoyment and privacy. You may break the lease if your landlord breaks any of these obligations.
  • When the lease provides: If the lease has an early termination clause, then you can break it before the lease term ends.

Can I Break My Lease Due to Termites?

It depends. You may break your lease if your rental home's living conditions are uninhabitable. Be ready to demonstrate that the presence of termites is substantial and detrimental to your health and well-being.

Talk to Your Landlord First

Before you break your lease, you should allow your landlord to deal with the pest problem. Your landlord or property management company can only fix issues if they know one exists.

It is your landlord's responsibility to ensure your living space is pest-free. It is the tenant's responsibility to notify the landlord of the problem and give them a reasonable amount of time to fix it. Regarding termites, your landlord should address the issue immediately to avoid termite damage in their apartment building or rental property.

You should first give your landlord written notice of the problem and ask them to hire a pest control company or pest control service to do a termite inspection and fumigate if necessary. Many pest control companies use tenting as they fumigate and render the property pest-free. Your landlord may have to provide you with another place to live during this process.

After fumigation, the landlord should organize regular inspections to catch any pest issues before they become unmanageable.

Constructive Eviction

Constructive eviction occurs when the rental premises become so uninhabitable that the tenant must leave. The tenant can't stay on the premises, so the landlord has constructively evicted them. For you to have a constructive eviction claim, you must show the following:

  • The landlord neglected a duty they owe to you.
  • As a result of the neglect, the place has become uninhabitable.
  • You gave notice to the landlord to fix the issue.
  • You left the premises within a reasonable time frame.

If you fulfill the above requirements, you may be able to end your tenancy with no penalty. Check your local laws or consult with a real estate attorney for specific information.

Other Options

A constructive eviction claim is risky because you have to vacate the premises before you make this claim, and you risk losing your security deposit. You can take alternative routes to remedy the situation if your landlord refuses to address the termite problem. These include:

  • Hiring a professional to handle the termite problem, while withholding rent or putting it in escrow until a court gives a decision
  • Withholding rent until the landlord fixes the problem

States have different landlord-tenant laws. Make sure to research these statutes before you take any action.

Get Legal Help

Your landlord must address any pest infestations in your rental unit. If they do not, you have a wide range of options. An experienced landlord-tenant attorney can give you sound legal advice on your choices. Speak to a local landlord-tenant attorney today.

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