Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Alabama, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Alabama law to make reasonable effort to rerent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the notice requirements in Alabama to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Alabama
In Alabama, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Alabama tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 7 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (Ala. Code § 35-9A-441(a)).
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (Ala. Code § 35-9A-441(b)).
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Alabama
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Alabama without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.
1. 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 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.
2. 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).
According to AL Code § 31-12-2, the term “servicemember” means an active duty member of the regular or reserve component of the United States armed forces, the United States Coast Guard, or the Alabama National Guard on ordered federal duty.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Alabama is no different.
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 Alabama landlord-tenant law.
According to Ala. Code § 35-9A-204, landlord duties include the following:
- Compliance. Landlords are expected to comply with the requirements of applicable building and housing codes that materially impact a tenant’s health and safety.
- Repairs. Make all repairs and do whatever else necessary to keep the rental unit in a habitable condition.
- Common Areas. Maintain a clean and safe condition in all common areas.
- Maintenance. Maintain in good and safe working order and condition all electrical, plumbing, sanitary, heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
- Garbage. Provide and maintain appropriate receptacles for removing garbage and other waste.
The Landlord-Tenant Law Sections 35-9A-164; 35-9A-204; 35-9A-401; 35-9A-404 and 35-9A-405 pertain to withhold rent in lieu of repairs. Certain states allow tenants to withhold their rental payment until a necessary repair or health and safety violations in their unit has been remedied. Alabama is not one of those states. A tenant has the responsibility to pay their rent on time. The tenant, however, does have the right to provide written notice to the landlord that the necessary repairs must be made to the unit within 14 days or the lease agreement will be terminated.
4. 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 obligations of the lease.
- Landlord entry. In Alabama, a tenant has the right to receive at least two days’ notice before a landlord is allowed to enter their rental unit as defined in sections 35-9A-144; 35-9A-303 and 35-9A-442. There are situations, such as in emergencies or under a court order, when the landlord does not have to provide notice to enter. A tenant must usually grant the landlord access if the landlord has given proper notice and the landlord is trying to enter the unit for a lawful reason, such as to show the unit to a prospective tenant or to make a necessary repair.
- 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. There is no statute in Alabama for lockouts.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Alabama
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
Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in other states but are not applicable in Alabama:
- Violation of the 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).
- Illegal contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable.
- Domestic violence. Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence such as early termination rights. If you are confronting a domestic violence situation and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding laws that may apply in domestic violence situations.
- Mandatory disclosures. Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Disclosure laws typically impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. In rare cases, they contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease.
- Senior citizen or health issue. Some states offer age or health-related lease-breaking arrangements that permit early lease termination.
Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Rerent in Alabama
Alabama state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as 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.
According to Alabama Code §§ 35-9A-105, 35-9A-423, your landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit instead of charging you for the total remaining rent due under the lease. If your landlord rerents the property quickly, all you’ll be responsible for is the amount of time the unit was vacant.
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, you may want to notify them of your state’s law.
Alabama tenants who break their lease early without proper justification should still plan on losing at least one month’s rent, even though the landlord has a responsible to rerent. In Alabama and other states where the law requires the landlord to make a reasonable effort to rerent, judges in civil courts commonly award landlords with at least one month’s rent, no matter how quickly the unit is rented.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Alabama
If your lease does not prohibit subletting, then you are 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 proof that you notified your landlord.
The letter should include the following information:
- Sublet term
- Name of proposed subtenant or assignee
- The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee
- Your reason for subletting or leaving permanently
- Your new address during the sublease if applicable
- The written consent of any co‑tenant
- A copy of the proposed sublease
If your landlord rejects your request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law says your landlord cannot unreasonably refuse your sublet.