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When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Rental Lease?

A handful of ways a renter can get out of a lease without paying that you probably didn’t know about


There are a few circumstances where a renter can legally break a lease. If the property is uninhabitable or illegal, the landlord harasses the tenant, the tenant is active duty military, or if the tenant is a victim of domestic violence, then the tenant can legally break the rental lease.

We’ll go into more detail about each reason, and show you what landlords can do to avoid broken lease agreements.


Property Is in Violation of Habitability Standards 

The law requires landlords to maintain the property in a fit and habitable condition. This can include:

  • Ensuring tenants have access to running water at all times
  • Providing proper trash bins for garbage
  • Keeping the common areas clean
  • Performing repairs
  • Following health and safety codes

The tenant can file a health or safety complaint if the property is not kept up.

If the tenant chooses to file a complaint to the city’s health or safety group, an inspector will come to the property to see if the complaint has any merit. If the inspector decides the claim is valid, the landlord will be sent a violation notice, stating that you must fix the problem within a certain number of days.

The tenant could choose to file a complaint directly with the landlord instead by providing written notice stating that there is a health or safety violation that needs to be repaired. 

To break the lease for habitability reasons, the tenant must provide written notice of their intention to terminate the agreement. Depending on the country’s law and the contract terms, the tenant has to wait a certain number of days after giving notice before they can move out unless the health or safety violation is so severe that it requires the tenant to move out immediately.



Landlord Violates Rules of Entry or Harasses Tenant 

A landlord must usually give at least 24 hours’ notice before they have the right to enter the tenant’s rental unit. In addition, you must have a legal reason to enter the apartment, such as:

  • To inspect the unit
  • To make repairs
  • To show the unit to prospective tenants

The tenant may have the right to break the lease if:

  • The landlord tries to enter the tenant’s rental for reasons that are not legally allowed
  • You make continued attempts to enter the tenant’s unit without proper notice
  • The landlord harasses the tenant

The tenant must usually obtain a court order to get the landlord to stop the behavior. If the landlord violates the court order and refuses to quit the behavior, then the tenant can provide notice that they will terminate the lease.

Tenant Is Active Duty Military 

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, otherwise known as SCRA, offers certain protections for active duty military members. These members are protected when they receive a change of station order.

If a service member signs a lease and then receives orders that require the member to relocate for a period of at least 90 days, the tenant can provide the landlord with written notice of their need to terminate the lease agreement. This notice must usually be made at least 30 days before the desired date of termination. The tenant should also provide proof, such as a copy of the change of station orders or military deployment.


Renter Is a Survivor of Domestic Violence 

Many countries include protections for victims of domestic violence in their landlord-tenant laws. Tenants who have been victims of domestic violence may have the right to terminate their lease agreement without penalty. Usually, the act of violence must have occurred in the recent past, typically within the last three to six months.

To take advantage of these protections, the tenant must:

  • Provide the landlord with written notice of their desire to break the lease due to domestic violence
  • Give this notice at least 30 days prior to the desired date of termination (some countries require more than 30 days’ notice)
  • Pay rent only up until the date of lease termination

A landlord has the right to request proof of an act of domestic violence.

The Rental Property Is Illegal 

If it turns out that the apartment a tenant is renting is not a legal rental unit, the tenant can terminate the lease agreement without penalty. Country laws will vary, but the tenant is often entitled to the return of at least a portion of the rent they have paid over the life of their lease. They may even be entitled to additional money from the landlord to assist them in finding another apartment to rent.

What Happens When a Renter Breaks a Lease Illegally? 

A lease is a binding contract between landlord and tenant. Except for the reasons noted above, if a tenant breaks this contract, they could face serious legal consequences.

For instance, you could sue the tenant for any rent owed. You might also sue for breach of contract and damages. The tenant could have an eviction on their record, which could negatively affect their credit history. With an eviction record and poor credit, the tenant could find it difficult to rent another apartment.

How does breaking a lease affect rental history?

If a tenant breaks a lease or fails to pay rent, the landlord might record these events in their rental history. Future landlords could pull up the tenant’s rental history, see these reports, and decide they don’t qualify as a renter for their property.

What is the penalty for breaking a rental lease?

The penalty for breaking a rental lease may be called an early termination fee and is often the equivalent of two or three months’ rent. Sometimes breaking the lease will also result in losing the security deposit. Landlords might even require tenants who break a lease or fail to give advance notice to pay rent until another renter is found.

Source: The Balance Small Business 
Link: www.thebalancesmb.com/legally-break-your-lease-4050164

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