How Can the Tenant Terminate the Legal Obligation of the Lease?
A lease agreement is a binding legal contract, and tenants have a legal obligation to fulfill the terms of the lease. This includes staying in the rental property for the entire duration of the lease, often one year.
Unless the tenant has a good reason for breaking their lease, they are usually responsible for paying an early termination fee, among other penalties.
This article explores the circumstances under which tenants can legally break their leases.
Terminating the Legal Obligation of the Lease Agreement
There are a few circumstances under which a tenant may break their lease without triggering a penalty.
These circumstances include the following:
- The rental unit is not habitable
- The renter is a domestic violence survivor
- The renter is an active-duty military service member
- The landlord violates the tenant's right to privacy
Absent a valid reason for terminating their lease, the tenant may face penalties including, but not limited to, the following:
- A lawsuit for breach of contract and rent owed
- An early termination fee of several months' rent
- A negative entry on their rental history
The Rental Unit Is Not Habitable
Most leases include an implied warranty of habitability. Under an implied warranty of habitability, the landlord or property owner must ensure the rental property is safe for human life. Often, this warranty includes substantial compliance with local housing and safety codes.
Violations of this warranty often include the following:
- No running water
- No heat or hot water
- Non-working smoke or carbon monoxide detectors
- No-working plumbing
- Unsafe electrical systems
- Pest or rodent infestation
If any of these conditions exist in a rental property, the tenant can leave without fulfilling the rental lease terms. This is a constructive eviction. Before leaving, tenants must give the landlord or property management proper notice of the violation and enough time to remedy the issue.
The tenant may break the lease if the landlord does not fix the issue within a reasonable time. Tenants should document the problem and their correspondence with the landlord in case the landlord tries to sue them.
The Tenant Is a Domestic Violence Survivor
Most state laws allow victims of domestic violence to break their leases early without penalty. The tenant may have to provide some proof if the landlord asks for it.
Generally, tenants in this circumstance should take the following steps:
- Give the landlord written notice of their reason for moving.
- Give at least 30 days notice
- Continue paying rent until they leave
The Renter Is an Active-Duty Military Service Member
Federal law provides protections for active-duty service members who break their leases. This includes members of the armed forces. Per the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA), service members can terminate a residential lease or rental agreement under one of the following conditions:
- The service member enlists in active military duty or
- The service member gets orders to move or deploy for over 90 days
Service members can break their lease with written notice of lease termination and a copy of their orders. The type of lease they signed determines how many days' notice they give the landlord.
Types of Leases
In a month-to-month lease, the lease ends 30 days after the due date of the next rent payment. For example, if the service member gives notice on Nov. 22, the month-to-month tenancy will end on Jan. 1 of the following year if the rent is due on the first day of each month.
For fixed-term or annual leases, the lease ends the last day of the month following the month they gave notice. For example, if they gave notice on Nov. 22, the lease will end on Dec. 31.
The Landlord Violates the Tenant's Right to Privacy
All tenants have a right to quiet enjoyment of their rental units. Quiet enjoyment refers to the tenant's right to enjoy and use the rental property without intrusion from other residents or the landlord.
Although landlords can enter the rental unit to make repairs or to show the unit to a prospective new tenant, they must give notice. Often, 24 hours' notice is enough. If a landlord does not give advance notice, the tenant can consider an early termination, depending on their situation. Early termination is a remedy when the landlord repeatedly violates this right, not for a one-time violation.
The Tenant Finds a Replacement Tenant
If the tenant must leave for different reasons, such as a new job or to get closer to family, they can try to sublet the rental unit. A new tenant can take over the rest of the lease if the lease allows.
The replacement tenant will likely need to pass income and credit requirements to qualify for the rental property. Without a replacement tenant, the renter is often liable for unpaid rent through the end of the lease term.
The Landlord Agrees to the Lease Termination
Often, landlords may allow the tenant to leave before the end of the lease without any penalties. Tenants should get permission in writing and follow local laws on lease termination. They should give the landlord a written termination notice and keep a copy.
Breaking the Lease
If the tenant must leave the rental property, this is a breach of contract and will likely result in penalties. These penalties include paying the remaining rent payments or forfeiting the security deposit for any unpaid rent.
The landlord can file a suit in small claims court for remaining rent payments after using reasonable efforts to find a new tenant. In most states, the landlord must make a reasonable effort to re-rent the apartment. They cannot wait until the end of the lease term to find a new tenant.
Get Legal Help
Breaking a lease is a serious legal matter. If you have questions about terminating the legal obligation of your lease, you should speak to a local landlord-tenant attorney. These lawyers are experts in landlord-tenant law and can provide sound legal advice. Speak to a qualified local landlord-tenant attorney today.
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