Find out how state laws differ for when a tenant can or can’t legally break a lease without penalty. Click the links below about breaking a lease in each state, or read further for a summary of both federal and state-specific laws.
Legal Reasons for Early Lease Termination
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease without penalty, and some of them are only applicable in certain U.S. states. Below is a summary of each of those scenarios. Read further to learn more about each in greater detail.
|Early Termination Clause||Some leases may have this clause. If so, exact terms (i.e. cost) are usually specified.|
|Active Military Duty||Federal law allows active servicemembers to terminate lease if relocating due to deployment or permanent change of station.|
|Unit is Uninhabitable||Depending on the state, if the landlord is given notice of violations & doesn’t remedy them in time, the tenant is considered “constructively evicted”.|
|Landlord Harassment / Privacy Violation||Depending on the state, if the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for breaking a lease.|
|Domestic Violence||Some states allow victims of domestic violence to break their lease, but requirements & documentation varies widely.|
|Health Crisis||Some states allow tenants facing a serious physical or mental health issue to get out of their lease early.|
Early Termination Clause
Some modern lease agreements may provide specific terms that would allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for a penalty fee. Read over the lease and look for any language that outlines agreed-upon terms for ending the lease before the end of the fixed period, such as the amount of the fee (i.e. equal to 2 month’s rent) and the amount of notice required (i.e. 30 days).
If a lease agreement contains an early termination clause, before executing it and paying the penalty fee, read further to learn about other conditions that, if met, would not require a penalty fee to be paid.
Active Military Duty
The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) helps protect active service members who are relocated due to deployment or permanent change of station. The protection begins on the date of entering duty and ends between 30-90 days after the date of discharge.
To break a lease in accordance with the relief act, a tenant must:
- Prove the lease was signed before entering active duty
- Prove they will remain on active duty for at least the next 90 days
- Deliver a written notice to the landlord (example, page 2), accompanied by a copy of the orders to deploy / PCS or a letter from their commanding officer stating their pending deployment.
With that said, the lease does not terminate immediately. Once the notice is delivered, the earliest the lease can terminate is 30 days after the beginning of the next rent period. So 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 (meaning, rent is still due for the month of April).
Note: The term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces, commissioned corps of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.
Violation of Lease Agreement
If a landlord violates the terms of the lease agreement, it may be enough justification to break the lease and relieve the tenant from their own obligations (i.e. illegally raising the rent during the fixed period). Because each lease agreement is different, carefully read over the duties and requirements for both parties to understand if a violation has been made, and whether or not there is language describing how certain violations are to be handled. Here are a few examples of how a landlord could violate the lease agreement:
- Not getting required inspections. Some states require a new certificate of occupancy or a habitability inspection each time the unit is rented to someone new, or every few years.
- Illegal retaliation. In July of 2019, House Bill 346 (which became § 44-7-24) went into effect providing tenants with protection against landlords that retaliate to actions such as giving the notice to make repairs or reporting to governmental entities about violations in building or housing codes. The bill does not state that these types of illegal retaliation are enough justification for lease termination, but the bill does allow for a sizable penalty against the landlord if they’re found in violation (1 month’s rent + legal fees + $500), which could help offset the costs of penalty fees associated with early termination. Examples of landlord retaliation include:
- Refusing to make repairs. Landlords are required to keep their rental property in a habitable condition, making it illegal to refuse to make repairs that can affect the tenant’s health or safety.
- Increasing rent. There are state laws for how often a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent and how much they can increase it by. Landlords must give proper notice, such as 30 to 60 days before a lease renewal and are not allowed to increase the rent by more than is legally allowed in their state.
Note on Landlord Retaliation
Landlords and tenants each have specific rights and responsibilities under federal, state and local landlord-tenant law. If either party is not fulfilling its obligations, the other party has a right to address it. When a landlord-tenant dispute occurs and the landlord tries to evict (or punish) a tenant for any of the following reasons it is likely against state law:
- If the tenant notifies a building inspector, fire department, health inspector, or other agency about unsafe, unhealthy, or illegal living conditions
- If a tenant joins or organizes a tenant union
- If a tenant follows self-help strategies allowed by their state and local law
Laws have been written to protect tenants from various forms of landlord retaliation. Retaliatory acts covered by most state laws include:
- Increasing rent
- Ending a tenancy or refusing to renew a lease
- Canceling utilities
- Verbal or physical harassment
- Withdrawing amenities and services
In addition to House Bill 346, the following states have supplementary statutes concerning landlord retaliation:
|Alabama||Ala. Code § 35-9A-501(a)|
|Arizona||Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1381|
|Arkansas||A.C.A. § 20-27-608|
|California||Civ. Code §§ 1942.5 and 1942.5(1)|
|Connecticut||§§ 47a-20 and 47a-33|
|Illinois||765 ILCS 720|
|Kentucky||KRS § 383.595|
|Massachusetts||MGL c. 186, § 18|
|Minnesota||Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.441, §§ 504B.385 (Subd 2)|
|Montana||Mont. Ann. Code §§70-24-431|
|New Hampshire||§§ 540:13-a and §§ 540:13-b|
|New Jersey||§§ 2A:42-10.10 to §§ 10.14|
|New Mexico||§ 47-8-39|
|New York||Real Property Law § 223-b|
|North Carolina||NCGS § 42-37.1|
|Oregon||Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.385|
|Pennsylvania||68 P.S. §§ 250.205|
|Rhode Island||§ 34-18-46|
|South Carolina||§ 27-40-760|
|South Dakota||§§ 43-32-27 and §§ 43-32-28|
|Tennessee||Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-514|
|Vermont||9 V.S.A. § 4465|
|Virginia||55-222 and 55-248.37|
|Washington||RCW §§ 59.18.240 and 59.18.250|
|Washington, D.C.||D.C. Mun. Regs. 14, §§ 307|
|West Virginia||Case law states the landlord must not terminate or refuse to renew a lease to a tenant. Imperial Colliery Co. v. Fout, 373 S.E.2d 489 (1988).|
|Wisconsin||Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.45|
In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, are generally not enforceable.
- Over 1-year lease without a description of the property. For a written lease agreement with a fixed period of greater than 1 year to be valid, it needs to have a clear description of the leased property.
- Illegal units. The definition of what constitutes an illegal rental unit can vary by location and isn’t always entirely clear.
Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units. If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs/fixes are still not made within the allowable time period, a tenant would be considered “constructively evicted”. As a result, the obligations of the tenant under the lease are no longer required, given that the landlord has not met their own responsibilities under the landlord-tenant law.
Habitable premise or “implied warranty of habitability” statutes have been written into a majority of state landlord-tenant laws. These warranties cover basic amenities such as hot water, heat, a working roof, and secure flooring and walls. Additionally, dwellings should be free from dangers such as asbestos, lead, and mold. If the landlord refuses to provide the tenant with the implied warranty of habitability, then the tenant may be able to break their lease without liability for future rent. These are considered a tenant’s right, regardless of any conditions a landlord might ask the tenant to sign or agree to in a lease.
Implied warranty of habitability varies by state. They typically require the landlord to:
- Deliver the rental premises to a tenant in compliance with the rental agreement, in a safe, clean, and habitable condition
- Comply with health and housing codes applicable to the rental premises
- Make all reasonable efforts to keep common areas of rental premises in a clean and proper condition
- Provide and maintain the following items in rental premises in good and safe working condition:
- Electrical systems
- Plumbing systems sufficient to accommodate a reasonable supply of hot and cold running water at all times
- Sanitary systems
- Heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems
- Elevators, if provided
- Appliances supplied
- A heating system must be sufficient to adequately supply heat at all times
- Exterminate infestations of rodents and other vermin
Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation
If the action is serious enough, harassment by a landlord or their violation of a tenant’s privacy may be enough justification for relieving a tenant of their lease obligations.
Tenants who feel their landlord has harassed or invaded their privacy should ask the landlord to stop and then follow up the request in writing. The letter to the landlord should explain how they harassed or invaded the tenant’s privacy and what the tenant plans to do if the behavior does not stop. The landlord’s action must be ongoing—not an isolated incident. These violations can be towards tenants or their guests.
If a landlord repeatedly commits any of the following violations, the tenant may be considered “constructively evicted”:
- Landlord entry. It is unacceptable (and illegal in most cases) for a landlord to enter a rental property without proper notice, to perform redundant inspections, or show up at inconvenient times for the tenant. Most states grant landlords the right to enter their rental property under specific conditions and given they meet set legal notice requirements. Acceptable reasons for a landlord to enter a dwelling would be to make repairs, inspect the property or show the rental unit to a prospective tenant. Landlords might also need to follow legal notice requirements set by their state, typically 24 to 48 hours. Some states require a “reasonable” amount of notice—which is generally considered 24 hours.
- Changing the locks. In some states, if the locks are changed by a landlord without the tenant’s permission or without the protection of specific language in the lease agreement, this can qualify as being “constructively evicted”, and could relieve the tenant of their duties of the lease.
- Other forms of landlord harassment include:
- Providing personal information about a tenant to strangers
- Allowing someone to enter the dwelling without the tenant’s permission
- Sexually harassing a tenant
- Visiting the tenant’s workplace
- Restricting guests without cause
- Spying on the tenant or visiting frequently
- Cutting off amenities that were included in the lease
- Refusing to make repairs
- Raising rent
- Threatening behavior
Read your state’s landlord-tenant laws for more information on landlord harassment and privacy violations.
These states have laws that protect tenants from harassment such as a landlord entering without notice (or not the sufficient amount of notice) or locking a tenant out:
|Landlord notice before entry||Self-help evictions, lockouts|
|Alabama||2 days and notice must be posted to the door. Ala. Code § 35-9A-303(d)||Not allowed. Ala. Code § 35-9A-407|
|Alaska||24 hours, and entry is allowed only at reasonable times. §§ 34.03.140(c)||Not allowed. §§ 34.03.280 and 34.03.210|
|Arizona||2 days. Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1343(D)||Not allowed.|
|Arkansas||No statute.||The courts will decide on a case by case basis.|
|California||24 hours. Civ. Code §§ 1954a||Not allowed. Civ. Code §§ 789.3b(1)|
|Colorado||No statute.||Not allowed, with exceptions. C.R.S. 38-12-510|
|Connecticut||A reasonable written or oral notice required, and entry allowed only at reasonable times.§§ 47a-16(c)||Not allowed.|
|Delaware||48 hours. § 5509 (b)||Not allowed. § 5313|
|12 hours, unless otherwise agreed upon. 83.53(2)||Not allowed. 83.67(2) and 83.67(6)|
|The landlord must provide prior notice.||Not allowed.|
|2 days and entry allowed only at reasonable times. §521-53(b)||Not allowed. §521-63(c)|
|No statute. The lease should specify when and how the landlord may enter the property.||Not allowed.|
|No statute.||Not allowed.|
|Reasonable written or oral notice is required, generally 24 hours. IC 32-31-5-6(g)||Not allowed. IC 32-31-5-6(c)|
|At least 24-hour notice required and entry allowed only at reasonable times. §§ 562A.19(3)||Not allowed. §§ 562A.26 and §§ 562A.33|
|Kansas||The landlord must give reasonable notice before entry at a reasonable hour. §§ 58-2557||Not allowed. §§ 58-2563|
|Kentucky||2 days, and only at reasonable times. KRS § 383.615||Not allowed. KRS § 383.655|
|Louisiana||No statute.||Not allowed.|
|Maine||The landlord must give reasonable notice before entry at a reasonable hour.|
|Maryland||No statute.||Not allowed.|
|Massachusetts||No statute. MGL c.186 § 15B(1)(a)||Not allowed. MGL c.186 § 15F|
|Michigan||No statute.||Not allowed. §§ 600.2918 (2)(c & d)|
|The landlord must give reasonable notice. Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.211 (Subd 2)||Not allowed. Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.225, §§ 504B.375|
|No statute. The right of entry must be stated in the lease.||Allowed. § 89-8-17|
|Missouri||No statute.||Not allowed. §§ 441.233(1)|
|Montana||The landlord must give at least 24 hours’ notice before entering. Mont. Ann. Code §§70-24-312||Not allowed. Mont. Ann. Code §§70-24-312|
|A one-day notice required and only at reasonable times. §§ 76-1423(1)||Not allowed. §§ 76-1436|
|Nevada||24 hours. NRS 118A.330||Not allowed. NRS 118A.390|
|New Hampshire||Adequate depending on the reason. §§ 540-A:3(V)||Not allowed. §§ 540-A:3(II)|
|New Jersey||A reasonable notification required.||Not allowed. §§ 2C:43-8|
|New Mexico||24-hour notice required.|
§ 47-8-24(A)(1) and (2)
|Not allowed. § 47-8-36|
|New York||No statute.||Not allowed. Penal Law § 241.05; NYC|
Admin Code §§ 27-2004, 27-2005
|North Carolina||No statute.||Not allowed. NCGS § 42-25.9|
|Entry is allowed only at reasonable hours and in a reasonable manner. § 47-16-07.3(2)||Not allowed. § 32-03-29|
|Ohio||A reasonable notice required, only allowed at reasonable times. §§ 5321.04||Not allowed. §§ 5321.15|
|One-day notice. § 128(C)||Not allowed. § 123|
|Oregon||24 hours. § 90.322(b)||Not allowed. Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.375|
|At least two-day notice, and only at a reasonable time. § 34-18-26(c)||Not allowed. § 34-18-34|
|24 hours notice and only at reasonable times § 27-40-530(c)||Not allowed. § 27-40-910|
|South Dakota||24 hours required in writing, specifying the reason for entry, the date or dates and time of entry during business hours, providing the tenant an opportunity to reschedule. §§ 43-32-32||Not allowed. §§ 43-32-6|
|No statute.||Not allowed.|
|Yes, the notice amount is not specified. Sec. 92.0081||Allowed, with conditions. Sec. 92.0081|
|24 hours, unless specified in the lease. UCA §§ 57-22-4(2)||Not allowed. UCA §§ 78B-6-814|
|48 hours, and only allowed to enter between 9 am and 9 pm. 9 V.S.A. § 4460||No statute.|
|24 hours. § 55-248.18(A)||Not allowed. § 55-225.1|
|Two days. RCW §§ 59.18.150(6)||Not allowed. RCW §§ 59.18.290|
|Washington, D.C.||No statute.||Not allowed. Simpson v. Lee, 499 A.2d 889 (1985)|
|12 hours, but shorter if the tenant agrees. Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.05(2)||Not allowed.|
|Wyoming||Yes. In general, tenants are prohibited from denying access to the rental unit or refusing a landlord entry. Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1205||Not allowed.|
Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. Some protections available for victims of domestic violence include:
- Protection from termination. Landlords cannot refuse to rent to a potential tenant because they were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Additionally, landlords cannot end a lease or refuse to renew a lease because the tenant was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
- If you request the landlord to change your locks and they fail to do so within 24 hours of your request, you may then change the locks yourself. If the restrained person is also a tenant of the unit, that person is still responsible for upholding their end of the lease.
- Proof of status. A landlord is entitled to verify the claim of domestic violence status. The tenant is required to attach a copy of the restraining order, emergency protective order, or police report to their termination notice they provide to the landlord.
If you are confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also mean stalking), and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations. The following states have landlord-tenant laws concerning domestic violence situations:
|Arizona||Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1318(A),(E), and (H1)||Victims are permitted early termination of the lease on a mutually agreed date (but within 30 days’ notice) without a lease penalty (ARS 33-1318(A)) so long as they provide proof of status. |
Locks must be changed by the landlord if requested (ARS 33-1318(E)).
The landlord must refuse entry to the tenant if the tenant is the perpetrator (ARS 33-1318(G)).
No monetary penalties for summoning peace officers or emergency services are permitted (ARS 33-1315(A)(5)).
|Arkansas||A.C.A. § 18-16-112(b)||The landlord cannot refuse to rent to a domestic violence victim, terminate the lease, prohibit or penalize for peace officer calls, refuse to change the locks (at the tenant’s expense), or allow the perpetrator in a protective order to enter the premises unless allowed under the court order (A.C.A. § 18-16-112).|
|California||Civ. Code §§ 1941.5, 1941.6, 1941.7, 1946.7 and 1161.3||Tenants may terminate their lease after 14 days of the notice and providing proof of victim status (Cal. Civ. Code § 1946.7(b) & (d)). |
The landlord must change the lock during the tenancy if requested (Cal. Civ. Code § 1941.5 and 1941.6).
|Colorado||C.R.S. 38-12-402-2, 13-40-107.5-c, and 38-12-402-1||Victims may terminate their lease with proof of domestic violence status. No penalty or retaliation for police calls to seek help for abuse is permitted (Colorado Revised Statutes 38-12-402).|
|Connecticut||§§ 47a-11e||Domestic violence victims and sexual assault victims may terminate with a 30-day notice (Conn. Gen. Stat. 47a-11e).|
|Delaware||§ 5316, 5316 (a), 5314(6), and 5316 (d)||Victims may receive early termination with 30 days’ written notice (25 Del Code § 5314(b)(6)). |
Landlords may not pursue eviction, increase rent, decrease services, or cause tenants to quit solely because a tenant is a domestic violence victim (25 Del Code § 5316).
|Hawaii||HRS S.521-80-81||Victims may receive early termination upon 14 days’ notice and proof of their status (HRS S.521-80(a)). |
The landlord must change the locks upon request within three days at the tenant’s expense or allow tenants to change the locks themselves, providing new keys to the landlord (HRS S.521-81(b)).
|Illinois||765 ILCS 750/5, 765 ILCS 750/20, 765 ILCS 750, and 765 ILCS 750/27||Victims may terminate the lease upon providing three days’ written notice and proof of victim status. Landlords must change the locks upon request (or allow tenants to change the locks) within 48 hours of receiving written notice and proof of victim status or court order if the perpetrator is a lessee (765 ILCS 750/20(a)). The landlord may charge a reasonable fee for the lock change. |
The landlord cannot disclose to the prospective buyer of the unit that a current tenant or member of the tenant’s household exercised rights of a victim of domestic violence or any information regarding those rights (except if compelled by law or in a civil procedure) (765 ILCS 750/27(a) & (b)).
Tenants can waive non-disclosure rights in writing only (765 ILCS 750/27(c)).
|Indiana||IC 32-31-9-8, IC 32-31-9-12 b, c, and IC 32-31-9-9||No retaliation against victims by the landlord is permitted, including terminating the lease early or refusing to rent (IC 32-31-9-8). |
Landlords must change the locks within 48 hours of receiving proof of victim status if the perpetrator does not live in the same residence (IC 32-31-9-9).
Landlords must change the locks within 24 hours with a court order if the perpetrator lives in the same residence, and the landlord may not give the perpetrator access unless required by a court order to collect possessions (IC 32-31-9-10).
The tenant must reimburse the landlord for the actual cost to the change locks. If the landlord does not change the locks upon request, the landlord must reimburse the tenant (IC 32-31-9-11).
Victims may receive early termination of the lease upon 30 days’ written notice if 1) there is a restraining order and 2) there is a domestic violence safety plan that recommends relocation (IC 32-31-9-12).
|Iowa||§§ 562A.27A(3)||The landlord cannot terminate a lease, fail to renew, or refuse to enter into a lease with a domestic violence victim (Iowa Code § 562A.27A).|
|Louisiana||§40:506(D)||Tenants receiving housing authority assistance cannot have those tenancies or assistance revoked due to domestic violence crimes committed against them (Louisiana Revised Statutes Annotated 40:506(d)(1)). |
The housing authority may terminate the tenancy or assistance to domestic violence perpetrators (Louisiana Revised Statutes Annotated 40:506(d)(1)).
For landlords owning buildings with six or more separate units, domestic violence victims may terminate their leases early upon 30 days’ written notice and proof of domestic violence victim status (Louisiana Revised Statutes Annotated 9:3261.1). This requirement does not apply to landlords with 10 units or less that live in one of the units.
|Maine||14 Me. Rev. Stat. Ann 6025(1)||Domestic violence victims can change the locks at their own expense and must provide the landlord a duplicate key within 72 hours (14 Me. Rev. Stat. Ann 6025(1)).|
|Maryland||Md Real Property Code, 8-5A-02(a)(1,2)||Victims may receive early lease termination upon 30 days’ written notice and proof of domestic violence victim status (MD Code Ann 8-5A-02, 8-5A-03, and 8-5A-04). |
The landlord cannot evict based on a domestic violence event (MD Code Ann 8-5A-05).
The landlord must change the locks if there is a protective order for the victim or a peace order is issued for the benefit of the victim. The lock change must occur by the close of the next business day after receiving a written request. If the landlord changes the locks, the tenant must provide the landlord with new keys within 48 hours, and the landlord can charge for the reasonable costs of the lock change.
Tenants may change the locks themselves if the landlord does not do so by the end of the next business day (MD Code Ann 8-5A-06).
|Massachusetts||MGL c.186 § 24(a), MGL c.186 § 24(b), MGL c.186 § 25, and 26||Victims may receive early lease termination upon 30 days’ written notice of victim status (occurring within three months of the latest domestic violence, rape, sexual assault, or stalking event). The landlord must keep such documentation confidential (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 186 Section 24). |
The landlord cannot terminate the lease solely for the tenant’s domestic violence and cannot refuse to enter into a rental agreement solely based on the applicant’s domestic violence status or lock change request (Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. Ch. 186 Section 25).
|Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 1(b)), §§ 504B.206 (Subd 1(b)), §§ 504B.206 (Subd 2), §§ 504B.206 (Subd 3) and §§ 504B.206 (Subd 4)||The landlord cannot evict, penalize, or limit the tenant’s right to call police or emergency services in response to domestic violence (Minn. Stat. 504B.205). |
Tenants can terminate the lease early upon providing written notice and proof of domestic violence victim status (Minn. Stat. 504B.206(1)).
Tenant victims are still liable for rent payment for the full month in which the tenancy terminates but forfeit all claims for the return of the security deposit under Minn. Stat. 504B.178 (Minn. Stat. 504B.206(3)).
The landlord must keep information provided in the written notification confidential except as evidence in an eviction proceeding, action for unpaid rent/damages, or as required by law (Minn. Stat. 504B.206(2)).
|Nevada||NRS 118A.345||Domestic violence victims have the right to terminate the lease upon written notice to the landlord of a domestic violence incident within the past 90 days. The victim is responsible for rent for 30 days or until the end of the current rental period, whichever is sooner (NRS 118A.345(1)).|
|New Hampshire||§§ 540-2 (VII)(a), §§ 540-2 (VII) and §§ 540-2 (VII)(b)||The landlord cannot terminate a victim’s lease solely because of a domestic violence incident. Victims have the right to have the locks changed (NH RSA 540.2.VII).|
|New Jersey||Yes.||The victim can terminate the lease upon 30 days’ written notice to the landlord. |
The victim is responsible for paying rent and abiding by the lease until the thirtieth day after the landlord receives notification (NJSA 46:8-9.6 & 9.7).
A security deposit refund is due within 15 business days including interest earned (NJSA 46:8-21.1).
|New Mexico||§ 47-8-33(J)|
|New York||Real Property Law § 227-c||Victims can terminate the lease early with a court order specifying a termination date that is no earlier than 30 days and no later than 150 days after the due date of the next rental payment date subsequent to the date such order is served on the landlord (NY Real Property 7:227c(2)(d)). |
The landlord cannot discriminate, refuse to rent to the victim, or terminate the lease on the victim. Note these protections do not apply to owner-occupied buildings with two or fewer units (NY Real Property 7:227(d)(2)(d)).
|North Carolina||NCGS § 42-42.2 and § 42-45.1||Victims may receive early termination by providing 30 days’ written notice and proof of victim status (e.g. protection order, restraining order, or valid Address Confidentiality Program card).|
A victim of domestic violence or sexual assault must submit a copy of a safety plan with the notice of termination (NC Gen Stat 42-45.1(a)).
If a victim terminates the lease 14 days or more before occupancy, the tenant is not subject to any damages (NC Gen Stat 42-45.1(c)).
The landlord cannot refuse to lease or renew based on a tenant’s domestic violence victim status (NC Gen Stat 42-42.2).
The landlord must change the locks upon request and provide new keys within 72 hours. The tenant must reimburse for expenses. The tenant can change the locks if the landlord does not act within 72 hours as required, and the tenant must give the new keys to the landlord within 48 hours (NC Gen Stat 42-42.3(b) and (c)).
|North Dakota||§ 47-16-17.1||The victim may terminate the lease upon providing advanced written notice stating that 1) he or she fears domestic violence from a perpetrator named in a court order, protection order, or restraining order, 2) the tenant needs to terminate the lease, and 3) the lease termination date (ND Century Code 47-16-17.1 and 17.2). |
The tenant is responsible for paying rent for the full month in which the tenancy terminates PLUS an additional month’s rent, subject to the landlord’s duty to mitigate (ND Century Code 47-16-17.5).
The landlord cannot refuse to rent to a domestic violence victim or terminate the lease due to domestic violence incidents.
|Oregon||Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.453(2b)||A victim may terminate the lease early by providing a verification statement and 14 days’ written notice requesting early termination (Legislative template at ORS 90.453). |
The written notice must include the lease release date, all family members to be released from the lease obligations, verification of domestic violence victim status (such as a protective order), and proof of the domestic violence incident occurring within 90 days prior to the notice (ORS 90.453(2)).
The victim can request a lock change from the landlord or permission to change the locks themselves (ORS 90.459).
|Rhode Island||§ 34-37-1||Tenants that are victims of domestic violence cannot be discriminated against. For instance, the landlord cannot refuse to rent to the victim, terminate the lease, or fail to renew solely due to the tenant’s status as a domestic violence victim (RI Gen Law 34-37-1(a) to (e)).|
|Texas||Yes.||Victims cannot be prohibited from calling the police or otherwise be penalized for domestic violence incidents (Texas Property Code 92.015(a)). |
Victims of domestic violence, sex offenses, or stalking may terminate the lease early upon providing proof of their victim status and a 30-day written notice (Texas Property Code 92.0161(b):(d)).
|Utah||UCA §§ 57-22-5.1 and 57-22-5||Victims can request that the landlord change the locks by providing proof of victim status and reimbursement for the landlord’s expenses (Utah Code 57-22-5.1(3)). |
Victims can terminate the lease early by providing 45 days’ written notice and proof of victim status (Utah Code 57-22-5.1(4)).
The landlord may not restrict the tenant from calling the police and may not penalize or evict the tenant for seeking assistance (Utah Code 57-22-5.1(5)).
|Virginia||§ 55-225.16||Victims can terminate the lease early by providing proof of victim status (e.g. protective order or conviction by a court) and 30 days’ written notice to the landlord (VA Code 55-225.16 & VA Code 55-248.21:2).|
The landlord cannot charge liquidated damages (VA Code 55-248.21:2(D)). Victims can request a lock change by providing proof of victim status.
The landlord can charge for reasonable costs incurred for a lock change at termination (VA Code 55-248.18:1(A)).
|Washington||RCW §§ 59.18.575 (1b) and RCW §§ 59.18.580||Victims can terminate the lease early by providing proof of victim status and may request termination within 90 days of a domestic violence event (RCW 59.18.575(1)). |
Victims are discharged from payment of rent for any period following the last day of the month of the termination day (RCW 59.18.575(2)).
The landlord cannot terminate the tenancy, fail to renew, or refuse to enter into a rental agreement based solely on domestic violence victim status (RCW 59.18.580).
|Washington, D.C.||D.C. Code § 42-3505.07||Victims may receive early termination of the lease after providing 14 days’ written notice and proof of status OR a new tenancy of the unit, whichever occurs first (DC Code Annotated Section 42-3505.07).|
The landlord must change the locks within five business days after a written request, and the victim must reimburse the landlord within 45 days for reasonable costs (DC Code Annotated Section 42-3505.08(a) & (b)).
|Wisconsin||Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.16||A victim may terminate the lease early upon providing proof of victim status and written notice of early termination (Wis Stat. 704.16(1)). |
Victims are not responsible for rent after the end of the month following the month in which notice was provided (Wis Stat. 704.16(2)).
The landlord can terminate a domestic violence aggressor’s tenancy upon receiving the proof (e.g. injunction, criminal complaint, etc.) (Wis. Stat 704.16(3)).
The landlord must change the locks to the tenant’s premises (or give tenants permission to change the locks) within 48 hours of receiving a written request and proof of victim status. The tenant is responsible for paying associated costs (Wis Stat. 704.16(4)).
|Wyoming||Wyo. Stat. § 1-21-1303||The landlord may not terminate the tenancy solely due to the tenant’s victim status (Wyo. Stat. 1-21-1303(c)). |
The Wyoming Safe Home Act cannot be waived or modified in any lease or separate agreement (Wyo. Stat. 1-21-1304).
Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Since these laws vary from state to state (and sometimes by city or county) it is important to have your agreement looked over by a landlord-tenant attorney in your state to guarantee the correct disclosures are included in your lease.
Some disclosure laws impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. Others contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease. If your landlord fails to provide you with a mandatory state or local disclosure speak with a landlord-tenant attorney in your state to determine what can be done.
Mandatory state disclosures may include:
Pest control. If the landlord has a contract with a pest control company, the landlord must provide new tenants with a notice that is provided by the pest control company.
Methamphetamine Contamination. If a health inspector finds that a unit is contaminated with chemicals from the production of meth, the tenants must move out of the unit, and the landlord must also serve the health inspector’s notice to future tenants.
Demolition Permit. If a building has applied for a demolition permit, the landlord must give notice to the current tenants and prospective tenants before they pay an application fee.
Military Ordnance. The landlord must notify prospective tenants if the rental property is located one mile from a closed military base where live ammunition or explosives were used.
Death in Unit. The landlord must disclose if the prior tenant died in the unit within the last three years, and why. However, if the prior tenant died in the unit because of AIDS, the landlord does not need to disclose that the prior tenant died of AIDS.
Mold. Landlords must provide written disclosure to prospective tenants of the potential health risks that may result from exposure to mold.
Utility. The landlord must disclose whether gas or electricity in the rental also serves other areas and must disclose how costs will be fairly allocated.
Flood Hazard. The landlord must tell their tenant whether the property is located in a flood hazard area or an area of potential flooding.
Bed Bugs. The landlord must provide all new tenants with general information about bed bug identification, behavior and biology, the importance of cooperation for prevention and treatment, and the importance of tenants promptly reporting (in writing) any suspected infestations to the landlord.
Security Deposit. The landlord must tell their tenant how they will hold the deposit, whether it will earn interest, and how long the landlord has to return it after the tenancy ends.
Move-in checklist. The landlord must provide their tenant with a move-in checklist.
Landlord-tenant laws. The landlord must provide a copy of their state or local landlord-tenant laws such as rent control rules.
Name and Addresses. The landlord must provide the identity of the landlord and the person authorized to receive legal papers and manage the premises.
Mandatory federal disclosure:
The only federally required landlord disclosure pertains to lead-based paint. Known as Title X, this disclosure is designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil. Section 1018 of this law requires the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of housing built before 1978.
If you, a dependent living with you, or your co-tenant, face a serious physical or mental health issue you may qualify for early lease termination without obligation to pay the entire balance of rent due. Some states offer permitted, health-related lease-breaking arrangements that are age-restricted. Most states require a note from a locally licensed physician and at least 30 days’ notice. Since not all states allow this statute, be sure to check your state’s landlord-tenant handbook for further information.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking
The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the obligation of their lease term, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.
- They bought a house
- They are relocating for a new job or school
- They are upgrading or downgrading
- They are moving in with a partner
- They are moving to be closer to family
- Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
Tenant’s Options if Legal Justification is Not Met
If the previously stated legal conditions are not met, there are still a few options that a tenant has that could allow for them to not be obligated to pay rent until the end of the fixed period.
Speak with the Landlord
Some landlords may be understanding and willing to negotiate with a tenant. Every situation is different, and every landlord is different. A tenant’s best chance at getting a landlord to work with them is, to be honest about the reasons for leaving, to provide as much notice as possible, and to propose possible resolutions that could be mutually beneficial (i.e. by paying 2 month’s rent).
Aid in Finding a New Tenant
If the tenant moves out before the end of the fixed period, they are still required to pay rent until the end of the period until a new tenant is found. During the remaining period, the landlord may be required to make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant, this is called “mitigating damages.” Therefore, the previous tenant may choose to be proactive and help to find a new tenant on their own, instead of waiting for the landlord to find one. The landlord does not have to accept the newly found tenant if they have reasonable justification (i.e. they have bad credit or rental history), but helping to find a new tenant can only help increase a tenant’s chances of being relieved of future rent.
Your Landlord Could Be Required to Try to Rerent
Many states require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is the landlord’s duty to mitigate damages. This means that if you leave your lease early and your landlord rerents the unit before your lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to your debt.
Tip: If you have broken your lease, and you live in a state that requires your landlord to mitigate damages, you should still plan on losing at least one month’s rent. Even if your state law requires the landlord to make a reasonable effort to rerent, in civil court it is common for a judge to award landlords with at least one month’s rent (no matter how quickly the unit is rented).
Keep in mind, not all landlords are aware of their duty to mitigate. If your landlord demands payment for the remaining balance of your lease, and you live in a state that requires them to try and rerent, you may want to notify them of the state law. Here are the states that require landlords to mitigate damages:
|Alabama||Ala. Code § 35-9A-423(c)|
|Alaska||§§ 34.03.320 and 34.03.230(c)|
|Arizona||Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. §§ 33-1370(C)|
|California||Civ. Code §§ 1951.2|
|Delaware||§ 5507 (d)|
|Yes, but no statute requires the landlord to look for a new tenant. O.C.G.A. § 44-7-34|
|No statute. Case law in Industrial Leasing Corporation v. Thomason, 532 P.2d 916 (Idaho 1974) establishes duty.|
|735 ILCS 5/9-213.1|
|§§ 562A.4(1) and §§ 562A.29(3)|
|KRS § 383.670(2)|
|Michigan||No statute. Case law mandates that the landlord make an effort. (Fox v. Roethlisberger, 85 N.W.2d 73 (Mich. 1957), Froling v. Bishoff, 252 N.W.2d 832 (Mich. Ct. App); Jefferson Development Company v Heritage Cleaners, 311 N.W.2d 426 (Mich. App. 1981))|
|§§ 535.300 (3)|
|Mont. Ann. Code §§70-24-426 (3)|
|§§ 76-1405 and §§ 76-1432(3)|
|New Jersey||No statute. Case law dictates the landlord makes a reasonable attempt. (Sommer v. Kridel 1977)|
|New Mexico||§ 47-8-6(A)|
|§ 47-16-13.5 and 47-16-13.7|
|§ 105(A)) and § 129(B)|
|Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.410|
|Rhode Island||§ 34-18-40|
|Tenn. Code Ann. § 66-28-507|
|RCW §§ 59.18.310|
|If a tenant abandons a lease, the landlord can hold the tenant liable for the remainder of the lease or notify a tenant of intent to re-rent. § 37-6-7 and § 37-6-8|
|Wis. Stat. Ann. §§ 704.29(2)(b)|
If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you should be in the clear to do so. However, your lease might contain a clause requiring you to obtain your landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get landlord approval you will want to send them a letter through certified mail, with a return receipt requested, outlining the terms of the sublet lease agreement. Certified mail is the only proof of delivery that most courts will accept in case you need to prove that you notified your landlord.
The following states have specific requirements that need to be met in order for a tenant to legally sublet:
|Alaska||The prospective subtenant has to sign and submit their application to the landlord. The landlord will inform the subtenant in writing whether they have been accepted within 14 days. If the landlord rejects the subtenant, laws require the landlord to give a reason for the rejection.|
|Arkansas||The tenant has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|California||The tenant has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Colorado||The landlord can disallow the tenant from subletting but it has to be stated in the written lease agreement.|
|Delaware||The landlord can disallow the tenant from subletting but it has to be stated in the written lease agreement.|
|Florida||The landlord can disallow the tenant from subletting. Tenant also has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Hawaii||The landlord can disallow the tenant from subletting. Tenant also has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Idaho||The landlord can disallow the tenant from subletting. Tenant also has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Missouri||The tenant has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Nebraska||Tenants are allowed to sublet unless the landlord openly prohibits.|
|Nevada||Tenants are allowed to sublet.|
|New York||The tenant is allowed to sublet if the building owned by the landlord has 4 or more rental units. In this case, the landlord cannot object.|
|Pennsylvania||If the landlord allows subletting, the subtenant has to follow the same lease rules and regulations.|
|South Dakota||The main tenant is allowed to sublet. Subtenants are held directly accountable to the landlord for any lease violations.|
|Texas||The tenant has to obtain the landlord’s permission to sublet.|
|Utah||Tenants are allowed to sublet.|
|Virginia||If the tenant wants to sublet, they need to send a request in writing to the landlord. The landlord will have 10 days to approve or decline the tenant’s request. If no reply is given by the landlord within 10 days, the main tenant will be allowed to sublet according to Virginia sublet laws.|
Consequences of Illegal Lease Breaking
If a tenant breaks a lease without mutual agreement from the landlord or without the proper legal justification and does not pay the rent due for the remainder of the fixed period, the tenant faces the following consequences.
Loss of security deposit. Usually, at a minimum, a landlord may choose to withhold the security deposit.
Lawsuit. A landlord may sue the tenant for unpaid rent during the fixed period, which if won, could result in the tenant facing a money judgment. That judgment, if not paid on the spot or if terms are not set for a long-term payment plan, could result in the garnishment of the tenant’s wages or bank account.
Impact on credit score. While a money judgment won’t show up on a tenant’s credit report (thanks to the National Consumer Assistance Plan), if the landlord chooses to go an alternative route to collecting on unpaid rent by using a debt collection agency, the tenant’s credit score could be severely impacted.
Difficulty in finding future housing. Whether or not a tenant provides the landlord’s name & contact information themselves when looking to buy or rent in the future, a background check will most likely provide the future landlord or mortgage lender with that information. That previous landlord could provide a very negative reference.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens if you break a lease?
The consequences of breaking a lease could include credit score damage, loss of security deposit, a lawsuit by your landlord to collect outstanding rent, and difficulty in finding new housing.
How much does it cost to break a lease?
The cost of breaking a lease early depends greatly on your reasons. If you do not have the proper legal justification to break your lease, you may be expected to pay hefty fees in addition to forfeiting your security deposit. There is no standard amount a tenant must pay to break their lease early, it will depend on the specific lease you signed, the landlord and state law.
How do you get out of a lease legally without penalty?
To break a lease without penalty you will need to meet specific legal qualifications. The law acknowledges that periodically tenants have justifiable reasons for moving out of a rental before their lease ends. These reasons include a landlord’s failure to maintain habitable housing, a landlord harasses or violates a tenant’s privacy, the tenant enters active military service, or the tenant is a victim of domestic violence.
Can one person break a two-person lease?
Co-tenants are jointly liable for paying rent and fulfilling the terms of the tenancy. This means that a landlord can seek the total amount of rent from any of the co-tenants, and each co-tenant must adhere to the lease agreement. However, if one co-tenant breaks their lease a landlord can choose to terminate the tenancy.
How do you get out of a lease with a roommate?
If you are on the lease agreement and want to leave your lease early while your co-tenant(s) stays, you will want to give your landlord notice and ask that they or your co-tenant(s) find a new tenant. Once a new tenant moves in, your obligations should end.
How long after signing a lease can you back out?
Unless your written lease specifically allows for a cancellation period, your lease is binding the second you sign. The landlord has the right to decide whether to hold you to the lease terms or agree to the lease termination.
Does breaking a lease hurt your credit?
While a money judgment won’t show up on a tenant’s credit report (thanks to the National Consumer Assistance Plan), if the landlord chooses to go an alternative route to collecting on unpaid rent by using a debt collection agency, the tenant’s credit score could be severely impacted.
What happens if you break a lease and don’t pay?
A landlord may sue the tenant for unpaid rent during the fixed period, which if won, could result in the tenant facing a money judgment. That judgment, if not paid on the spot or if terms are not set for a long-term payment plan, could result in the garnishment of the tenant’s wages or bank account.