When Can Renters End a Lease Early?
Did you know you may have options for early lease termination?
Terminating your lease early is a big step, but one that may become necessary should your circumstances or the material condition of your rental unit change. Most leases offer provisions for early terminations, along with the additional rental payments, fees, or charges required, but those clauses are separate from the reasons justified by law for early lease termination.
If the reason for moving out is yours alone and not based on the legal situations outlined below, you can get started by using this template for giving notice and asking a lawyer to help you interpret your lease and state law before finalizing the letter.
On the other hand, if you are experiencing any of the following issues, ending the lease may not fall under that lease termination clause but the mechanics of ending that rental agreement will be more complicated.
Violations of privacy
Tenants are assured of the right to privacy within their rented homes. Regardless of the nature of the landlord-tenant relationship, your landlord has to provide notice of intent to enter the unit within a reasonable timeframe (typically between 24 and 48 hours) and has to have cause to enter, like a periodic inspection or maintenance.
Landlords cannot make random drop-bys, whatever their given reason. If your landlord is violating your tenant privacy rights, you may have justification to terminate your lease early, provided you have made your complaints known to the landlord and have made attempts to resolve the situation. Talk with a lawyer to see if you can terminate your lease early for privacy violations.
Military deployments and relocations rarely conform to the 12-month calendar of the standard lease. If you’ve received permanent change of station (PCS) orders that require you to get out of your lease before the end of the term, you can terminate your lease early with no penalty under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, provided that you give your landlord a written notice and show them a copy of your orders. If you’re active-duty military, it’s best to have a conversation with your landlord before signing your lease if you’re expecting to relocate within a year.
Victims of domestic violence may have the right to terminate their lease early, depending upon state laws. A copy of a protective order may have to be forwarded to the landlord as part of the process and renters have to give sufficient notice to the landlord of their intent to vacate. Many state laws also allow victims to have the locks of the units changed. For any monetary damages, the landlord can only go after the perpetrator, not the victim. Unfortunately, those same laws do not offer similar protection when it comes to evictions for not paying rent after an abuser has moved out. An attorney can help advise victims on their rights and next steps.
Uninhabitable living space
Landlords are required to keep your rental home in good condition during your tenancy. The unit needs to be safe and relatively clean, with sufficient hot and cold water and heating and/or air conditioning, as necessary. If those standards aren’t met, tenants are within their right to demand that those repairs are made, and if those demands aren’t met, tenants may be within their rights to end their lease early and move out. Those safety and habitability standards hold regardless of mitigating circumstances; even if you are in the midst of the eviction process, your landlord cannot shut off utilities or change the locks to force you out early.
If your tenant has failed to make your rental habitable, speak with a lawyer to see if it meets the standard for early lease termination. A lawyer can help you with the necessary paperwork and documentation for this situation.
Illegal rental unit
If you’re living in what turned out to be an illegal rental unit, you may be able to terminate your lease early provided that you had no knowledge of the illegality of the arrangement. How can you tell if a living space is an illegal rental? If it isn’t a residential space, doesn’t have separate utilities, and is seemingly otherwise unsuited for safe and reasonably comfortable living, there is a chance that the space is not zoned to be a rental unit. Tenants that unknowingly rented an illegal unit may be entitled to claim all or part of the rent paid during that period. Again, this is an area where an attorney can provide guidance.
Navigating an early lease termination can be difficult if you’re unsure about your legal grounds. Working with an attorney on any complex legal question is always wise to avoid any missteps that could leave you open to legal action on the part of your landlord. Get started with a legal plan from LegalShield to get connected with a lawyer who can help you work through the tenant rights questions for peace of mind.
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