May 2024

How Can You Break a Lease Legally?

Sometimes, people find themselves in situations where they need to break their lease. You can legally break a lease sometimes, but the situations where it is legal are pretty limited.

One reason you can break a lease legally is if the property is violating habitability standards. The law requires landlords to maintain a property in a “fit and habitable” condition. This means tenants need access to running water at all times, and trash bins must be provided. Landlords must perform repairs, follow health and safety codes, and clean common areas.

A tenant can file a health or safety complaint if these things aren't done.

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If a formal complaint is required, an inspector visits the property to see if there’s any merit. The inspector will decide if the complaint is valid, and a landlord is sent a notice of violation. The landlord is then given a certain number of days within which they have to fix the problem.

The tenant could file the complaint directly with the landlord, too, and provide written notice that says there’s a violation needing to be repaired. State laws dictate how long a landlord has to respond and then fix the violation.

The tenant may be able to legally break a lease agreement in most states if a landlord doesn’t fix a major violation.

If a tenant tries to break a lease based on habitability reasons, they have to provide written notice stating their intention to terminate the agreement. Depending on the law in the state, the tenant has to wait a certain number of days after they give notice before moving out. The exception is if the violation is so severe that it would require a tenant to move out immediately.

Rules of Entry and Harassment

Landlords are required to give a minimum of 24 hours’ notice before they have the right to enter a tenant's unit. Also, the landlord must have a legal reason to enter, like inspecting it, making repairs, or showing the unit to possible tenants.

The tenant may have a legal right to break their lease if the landlord tries to enter their unit for reasons that are not allowed or they make continued attempts to enter the unit without notice.

A tenant can also break their lease legally if the landlord harasses them. The tenant usually has to get a court order to get the landlord to stop their behavior. If a landlord violates the court order and doesn’t stop the behavior, the tenant can provide them notice they’re terminating the lease.

Active-Duty Military

The Service Members Civil Relief Act (SCRA) provides protections for members of the military who are on active duty. If a service member signs a lease and gets orders requiring them to relocate for at least 90 days, the tenant can terminate their lease agreement. The tenant does have to provide written notice to their landlord at least 30 days before the date they want to end the lease. The tenant will also often have to show proof to their landlord.

Domestic Violence

Many states have protections for people who are victims of domestic violence. If a tenant is the victim of domestic violence, they might have the right to terminate their lease without penalty. The act of violence must have occurred within the last three to six months.

To utilize these protections, a tenant has to provide written notice to their landlord that they want to terminate their lease due to domestic violence. They have to give the notice at least 30 days before they hope to end their lease, and some states require more notice than that. The victim has to pay rent only up to their lease termination date. The landlord does have the right to ask for proof of domestic violence.

The Property’s Illegal

If the apartment someone is renting isn’t a legal unit, a tenant can end their lease agreement without being penalized. State laws vary, but the tenant is often entitled to have at least a portion of their rent paid back. They might also be entitled to additional money from the landlord to help them find another rental.

Finally, a lease is a legally binding contract. Other than the reasons above, if you break your lease, you could face legal consequences. One consequence is the landlord suing you for any rent owed if you’re the tenant. A landlord could also sue you for damages and breach of contract, and you could get an eviction on your record. Evictions negatively affect your credit, and it could be hard to find anything to rent in the future.

DeLena Ciamacco
E-mail: [email protected]

RE/MAX Connection, Realtors

Equal Housing Opportunity