Can a Tenant Legally Break a Lease Due to Unlivable Conditions?

Last Updated: October 11, 2023 by Phil Ahn

Tenants who live on premises that do not meet habitability requirements can terminate their leases as long as they notify the landlord of the need for repairs and do not receive them.

What Qualifies as Unlivable Conditions?

A tenant can break a lease because of unlivable conditions. Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units. If those standards are not met, the tenant gives proper notice and the repairs are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted.”

There are no strict legal definitions for uninhabitable living conditions. Generally speaking, it is some condition that makes living in a home or premises impossible. Aesthetics such as ugly paint color or worn carpets generally do not render a property uninhabitable.

Local building codes outline the standards that rental units must meet. As a general rule of thumb, an implied warranty of habitability means that the landlord has provided:

  • Drinkable water
  • Hot water
  • Heat during cold weather
  • Working electricity
  • Adequate ventilating system
  • Smoke and carbon monoxide detectors
  • Working bathroom and toilet
  • Sanitary premises, including the removal of insect or rodent infestation
  • Protection from criminal harm in the form of locks and window guards
  • Up-to-date conformity to building codes

Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Pests?

A tenant may be able to terminate their lease early due to pests depending on the severity of the infestation. If the infestation is so severe so as to make the premises uninhabitable, the tenant will be able to terminate the lease.

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Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Mold?

A tenant may be able to terminate their lease early due to mold depending on the severity of the mold. If the mold is so severe so as to make the premises uninhabitable, the tenant will be able to terminate the lease.

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Can a Tenant Break a Lease Due to Noise?

A tenant may be able to terminate their lease early due to noise. If the noise is so severe so as to make disturb the quiet enjoyment of the premises uninhabitable, the tenant will be able to terminate the lease.

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How do Tenants Prove and Verify Unlivable Conditions?

A tenant can prove or verify uninhabitable living conditions by providing all of the following:

  • Proof of the issue (e.g., a photo)
  • Proof the tenant gave notice of the issue to the landlord (e.g., certified mail)
  • Proof the issue remains

To legally remedy the situation, a tenant must first notify their landlord of the breach of the warranty. This notice may be delivered in three ways:

  • A letter sent by certified mail that lists the problems with the rental unit
  • “Actual notice” of the problems (for instance, a tenant hand-delivers a letter detailing the problems to their landlord)
  • A written notice from a local government agency stating the conditions that are in violation of housing codes

    Upon receiving notice, the landlord may verify the conditions by inspecting the property. If the tenant intends to make the repair themselves, the tenant must provide the landlord with a copy of the repair bill and receipt for the payment.

    How to Terminate a Lease Due to Unlivable Conditions

    To terminate a lease for unlivable conditions, a tenant must have proof of the unlivable conditions, notify the landlord of the conditions, and give the landlord a chance to repair the issues.

    Notifying the Landlord

    A tenant must first notify the landlord of the defective conditions, in writing. Depending on the state, the landlord will have a certain period of time to address the issues. Arkansas is the only state that does not have an implied warranty of habitability.

    State Time to Repair Issues
    Alabama 14 Days
    Alaska 10 Days
    Arizona 10 Days
    Arkansas Landlord does not have to make repairs
    California 30 Days
    Colorado 5 Days
    Connecticut 21 Days
    Delaware 15 Days
    District of Columbia Reasonable Time
    Florida 7 days
    Georgia Reasonable Time
    Hawaii 15 Days
    Idaho 3 Days
    Illinois 14 Days
    Indiana 7 Days
    Iowa 7 Days
    Kansas 14 Days
    Kentucky 14 Days
    Louisiana Reasonable Time
    Maine Reasonable Time
    Maryland 30 Days
    Massachusetts 14 Days
    Michigan Reasonable Time
    Minnesota 14 Days
    Mississippi 30 Days
    Missouri 14 Days
    Montana 14 Days
    Nebraska 14 Days
    Nevada 2 Days
    New Hampshire 14 Days
    New Jersey Reasonable Time
    New Mexico 7 days
    New York 24 hours for immediately hazardous conditions

    30 days for hazardous conditions

    90 days for non-hazardous conditions

    North Carolina Reasonable Time
    North Dakota Reasonable Time
    Ohio 30 Days
    Oklahoma 14 Days
    Oregon 7 Days for essential services

    30 Days for all other services

    Pennsylvania 14 Days
    Rhode Island 20 Days
    South Carolina 14 Days
    South Dakota Reasonable Time
    Tennessee 14 Days
    Texas 7 Days
    Utah 1 Day
    Vermont 30 Days
    Virginia 10-15 Days
    Washington 10 Days
    West Virginia 14 Days
    Wisconsin 30 Days
    Wyoming Reasonable time

    Lease Termination

    Once the tenant has given notice to the landlord of the defects, the landlord must provide the repairs within a certain amount of time. If the landlord does not provide the repairs, then the tenant is allowed to terminate the lease.

    When notice has been delivered, a landlord has a “reasonable” amount of time to make the necessary repairs. What’s considered “reasonable” will vary based on the facts of the case and takes into account “the severity of the defects or conditions and the danger which they present to the occupants.”

    Once the tenant has provided notice to the landlord of the defective conditions, and the landlord has not provided a remedy, the tenant can then notify the landlord that they are leaving the premises and the lease will be terminated on a specific date.

    Tenant Liabilities

    The tenant will be liable for the remaining unpaid rent on a prorated basis. For example, if the notice was delivered on the 23rd of March, and the rent is due on the 1st of each month, the earliest the lease can terminate is May 1st. Therefore, rent is still due for the month of April.

    The tenant will also be liable for any damages, such as property damages incurred during the duration of the tenancy.