The legal agreement (or lease) between renter and landlord is usually pretty straight forward. The renter or tenant agrees to pay for the use of the property and the landlord or property owner promises to uphold all aspects of the rental agreement. Seems pretty simple right? But what about when circumstances occur that cause the tenant to break the lease?
In most typical situations, renters stay the entire term of their lease, whether it is 6 months, a year or two years. Unfortunately, life sometimes gets in the way of completing that agreement. A new job, a loss of job, a move, a medical illness, or even a military deployment can cause a tenant to break the lease.
Who Is Responsible for the Remainder of the Lease?
A lease is a binding agreement that’s supposed to protect both the landlord and the tenant. Therefore, depending upon the state in which you live, there are laws that protect both the landlord from being stuck with a vacant property until a suitable renter is found and a tenant from having to pay rent for an apartment that they no longer occupy.
Depending on the reason, the landlord might be legally bound to release the tenant without damages, or conversely, the tenant may be bound to paying the rent until a replacement tenant is secured. Check leasing laws in your state for more guidance.
When Is a Tenant NOT Responsible for the Remaining Rent?
While every case is different and should be examined on its own merits, there are several situations in which a tenant is not deemed responsible for continuing to pay the rent after they have given legal notice of moving out.
When Called to Active or Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act allows those in the armed forces, National Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Public Health Service the right to break their leases to start active duty or if their orders take them far away (50 miles is the accepted minimum distance). A 30 day notice must be given to release from the lease.
When Living Conditions Are Unsafe
Landlords are required by law to provide a habitable and safe place for tenants to live. Heat, hot water, working plumbing and electrical systems, and a generally safe (up to code) environment that doesn’t constitute a health hazard are required or tenants may be released from their lease without penalty.
When Domestic Violence is An Issue
Some states allow victims of domestic violence to break a lease without penalty by providing the landlord a written notice. Check your local and state laws and consult a local attorney if you want to learn more about the rights of victims of domestic violence.
The Question of Loss of Wages or Employment
This one gets a little trickier. In the age of covid many renters have found themselves out of work and a way to pay rent through no fault of their own. Some states require that landlords work with renters on making accommodations such as a payment plan or deferred payment. There may also be federal, state, or local laws that temporarily limit or prohibit landlords from evicting a tenant for nonpayment of rent.
For more information about breaking leases and the Cares Act which currently protects evictions during the global health crisis, click here.