Landlord Tenant Law and Breaking a Lease
In the past two weeks I have had two questions about what happens when you need to break your lease. I know this is a common issue, so I thought I would take a moment and write a quick post about it.
You Have to Pay Your Rent
I have good news and I have bad news. I will start with the bad news. When you sign a lease you are in a contract for the full amount of the lease. For example, you sign a lease for $1000 per month for a term of one year. The lease is actually for $12000, divided into 12 payments. You are responsible to pay $12000 regardless of whether you move out after a month or at the end of the year. Therefore, if you decide you want to move at the 6 month point, you are still responsible for the $6000 you have not yet paid.
The Landlord is Required to Mitigate
There is some good news. First, the landlord is required to mitigate. This means if you decide to move, the landlord has to take reasonable steps to find a new tenant. So back to our scenario. You are renting an apartment for $1000 and want to move at 6 months, leaving you owing $6000. If the landlord finds someone to move in a month after you leave, you will only owe for 1 month’s rent, or $1000. If he finds someone to move in after 3 months, you will owe 3 months rent, or $3000.
Understand, this does not mean the landlord has to take any tenant that comes along. The landlord is allowed to use the same methods for screening the new tenant as he did for you. Nor is he required to take heroic methods to rent the unit. You should also do what you can to find a new tenant. But remember, the tenant must meet the landlord’s reasonable requirements.
Most of the time, any adult who lives in a rental unit is required to sign the lease. Everyone who has signed the lease is both individually and collectively responsible for the rent. What this means is, if one roommate decides to move out, the other one still has to pay the rent. If roommates break a lease, the landlord can go after one or both (or however many people are on the lease) for the owed rent. The roommates who are stuck can sue the roommate(s) who moved out for breaking the lease, but having roommate(s) move out is not an excuse for the remaining person(s) to break the lease. What if you can’t afford your rent without the roommate? You should talk to your landlord, but you should also try to find a roommate to replace the one who moved out. You have an obligation to mitigate your losses as well. Again, the landlord has a right to approve or decline any replacement roommate(s).
Does Your Lease Have A Special Provision?
Some leases have provisions for breaking the lease. For example, a fee of two months rent. In that case, you would only have to pay whatever the lease break provision is that is listed in your lease. But, in every state I have researched this issue, there is no requirement that the lease require a lease break provision. That is not to say there are no states with such laws. I just haven’t happened across them in my reading. So check with a lawyer in your own state.
There are some exceptions for people in the military who are called to active duty, and potentially under other circumstances as well. There are also exceptions if the rental unit becomes uninhabitable or the landlord violates the lease or the law, but I am focusing here on situations where the tenant simply wants to move out and there is nothing wrong with the home. You should check with a lawyer in your state to find out about your rights in these kinds of situations.
A lease is a contract. The landlord is offering you whatever price he is offering you with the understanding that you will remain in the rental unit for the period of time of that lease. Think about it, if you could just end the lease whenever you wanted, it really wouldn’t be fair to the landlord, who is relying on you to stay in the unit and pay rent for a specific period of time. He can’t kick you out (unless you violate the lease) any time he wants either. It is a two way agreement that will be upheld unless one party or the other violates the lease or the law.
It never hurts to check with an attorney to see if there is something you can do. Nor is it a bad idea to speak with the landlord to see if he is willing to give you a break. But for the most part, if you decide to break a lease, you are stuck with some expensive consequences.