Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Mental or Physical Disability?

Last Updated: October 9, 2023 by Phil Ahn

Tenants who need a reasonable accommodation due to their mental or physical disability can terminate their lease early if the landlord doesn’t comply. Tenants must provide written notification to the landlord and supporting documentation of the disability.

What Qualifies as a Mental or Physical Disability?

A person with a disability is an individual with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. These individuals must have a record of the impairment. A record can constitute hospitalization records and documented time off as a result of the disability. 

A physical or mental impairment includes diseases and conditions such as:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Diabetes
  • Visual, speech, or hearing impairments
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • HIV
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Heart disease

Not only does having a qualifying disability enough, but the tenant must also be able to show that the disability is what is preventing the tenant from using and enjoying the apartment.

How Do Tenants Show Proof of Mental or Physical Disability?

When proving or verifying disabilities, there are two methods by which to do so:

  • The disability is obvious and apparent. If a person’s disability and need for the requested accommodation is obvious and readily apparent, then the landlord may not request any additional information. These would most likely be physical impairments that one could easily identify as being limiting to the tenant.
  • Request verification of disability. If the disability and the need for the requested accommodation is not so obvious and readily apparent, the landlord can only request information that is necessary to evaluate the disability. Provided information will generally be from a medical professional or reliable third party who is in a position to know about the individual’s disability. These disabilities would usually encompass some sort of mental disability.

When the tenant has shown proof of their disability, but the landlord is unable to or unwilling to make the reasonable accommodations, the tenant will be able to terminate the lease.

How to Terminate a Lease Due to Mental or Physical Disability

To terminate a lease because of mental or physical disability, the tenant must notify the landlord of the disability and provide supporting documentation.

Notifying the Landlord

A tenant exercising their right to terminate the lease due to mental or physical disability must provide the landlord in writing that they intend to break the lease.

The notice should be delivered by hand if possible, sent through private courier such as UPS or FedEx or via U.S. mail with a return receipt request at least 30 days in advance of the last day of tenancy.

Terminating the Lease

If a tenant has a qualified disability, the tenant may request early termination as a reasonable accommodation under the federal FHA or ADA. Once the landlord receives this letter, then they will terminate the lease. Upon delivery of the notice, the lease is considered terminated, effective 30 days after the next rental payment due date.

However, in the event the landlord refuses to honor the legitimate early termination of the lease, a tenant may have to file a Fair Housing complaint or sue in court.