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Terminating a Lease or Rental Agreement: FAQ

Although rental or lease agreements are binding legal contracts, landlords and tenants often need to terminate the agreement. State laws may provide landlords and tenants with some protection if they have to terminate a lease or rental agreement.

This article explores a few frequently asked questions about terminating a lease or rental agreement.

What is the difference between a lease agreement and a rental agreement?

Lease agreements cover leases of at least one year. Rental agreements cover shorter terms, like a month-to-month tenancy. A month-to-month lease is an example of a rental contract. If possible, try to avoid oral agreements. Written agreements are easier to enforce.

What is a lease termination?

A lease termination ends a lease. Tenants can notify the landlord or property owner through a lease termination letter. Notice requirements will vary depending on the lease agreement. These letters often include the termination date and a forwarding address.

Landlords can also end a lease with an eviction notice if the tenant violates the terms of the lease.

How can I legally break a lease?

State laws protect tenants and renters from the consequences of early termination for precise legal reasons. These reasons include:

  • Being a victim of domestic violence
  • Being called to active-duty military service as a member of the armed forces
  • If the rental property is uninhabitable, unsuitable for human occupancy

If you signed a month-to-month lease agreement, you can terminate your lease with 30 days' notice.

Are there other options for breaking a lease agreement?

Some lease agreements allow the tenant to terminate the lease early in exchange for a termination fee. The fee is often equal to one month's rent. Talk to the property manager so that you understand the notice requirements. Most landlords ask for a 30-day notice period, with written notice.

What are valid reasons for terminating a lease and evicting a tenant?

In general, most states allow a landlord to terminate a lease or rental agreement if the tenant:

  • Fails to pay rent
  • Violates a clause in the lease or rental agreement

When terminating a lease or rental agreement, the landlord must send the tenant a notice of termination. Lease termination notices usually order the tenant to do one of the following:

  • "Pay Rent or Quit": The tenant must pay rent within a set time (usually three to five days) or vacate the rental unit
  • "Cure or Quit": The tenant must correct a violation of the lease or rental agreement within a defined period of time
  • "Unconditional Quit": The tenant must vacate the premises without the opportunity to cure the breach or pay the rent

The landlord may file an eviction lawsuit if the tenant remains in the rental unit after receiving a termination notice.

How does a landlord evict a tenant?

Eviction is the court-ordered physical removal of the tenant and their property through the assistance of a law enforcement officer. Terminating a lease may require the landlord to file an eviction lawsuit or an unlawful detainer action if the tenant remains in the rental after receiving a termination notice. After the landlord sends a formal notice to the tenant, the eviction process begins when the landlord files a complaint with the court and waits for the tenant's answer. If the landlord prevails, they can repossess the property. A law enforcement officer may remove the tenant if they refuse to leave.

If a tenant terminates a lease agreement, can the landlord use the security deposit?

Every state allows a landlord to collect a security deposit when a tenant moves into a rental unit. A security deposit is a payment to the landlord to ensure that the tenant pays rent and does not damage the property. State laws regulate the amount a landlord may charge for a security deposit and when the landlord must return a tenant's security deposit.

When a tenant moves out, a landlord may use a security deposit to pay for the following:

  • Unpaid rent
  • Damages beyond normal wear and tear
  • Cleaning services

How is the security deposit returned?

In most states, landlord-tenant laws require the landlord to return a security deposit within 30 days, but deadlines can range from 14 to 60 days. Within the deadline, a landlord must do one of the following:

  • Mail the tenant the entire security deposit, plus interest if required
  • If the landlord used the deposit, send the tenant an itemized statement with a list of deductions, plus the remaining security deposit and interest, if required

If the landlord fails to do any of the following, the tenant may sue the landlord for damages:

  • Return the security deposit
  • Send an itemized statement within the legal time frame
  • Pay the tenant applicable interest

Get Help

Ending a lease or rental agreement involves analyzing your contract and local laws. An experienced, local landlord-tenant attorney can give you the necessary legal advice. Speak to a qualified, local landlord-tenant attorney today.

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