The Rights of a Tenant to Break a Lease


Landlords often have the upper hand when it comes to breaking leases, because they can usually require tenants to fulfill the terms of a written rental agreement. However, there are circumstances under which tenants have the right to terminate a lease before it expires, including job relocation. Renters who move early for other reasons usually won't be able to do so without compensating the landlord.

Lease Laws

  • Tenants are usually obligated to pay their rent until a lease expires, but FindLaw says there are circumstances under which a tenant may legally break a lease. Under federal law, tenants can break a rental agreement if they need to move because they're an active member of the military. FindLaw indicates that some state laws also allow tenants to break leases if they need to move to a senior facility for care. States also may allow people to back out of rental agreements if they have to move because their current employer is relocating.

Landlord Violations

  • Renters may cancel a lease early if their landlords violate certain terms of the lease. Many states allow tenants to break leases if their landlords don't maintain their properties to meet standards outlined in local health and safety codes. In such cases, tenants may be in intolerable living conditions and have the right to break their leases. Such circumstances also might allow renters to move out without giving their landlords advance notice, or they may give less notice than the lease requires.

Lease Negotiations

  • Tenants can move out before their leases expire if a storm or some other natural disaster significantly damaged their home. In any case, MSN warns that landlords usually have the law on their side when tenants break leases without a sound reason recognized by state or federal law. Therefore, tenants who need to break leases for other reasons may benefit from the intervention of a mediator if a landlord is unwilling to renegotiate lease terms. Housing mediators are usually available at a low cost or free of charge. The office of your mayor or city manager will have information on finding a landlord-tenant mediator.

Landlord Responsibilities

  • The Nolo law information website says that most states require landlords to make a good effort to find a new tenant when a renter breaks a lease, regardless of the renter's reason for terminating the lease. However, the landlord also may have the right to sue a tenant to recover unpaid rent during the time that the home remained vacant. Contact your local Legal Aid Society to get specific information about your state's laws on breaking leases.

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