Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Alaska when they can’t, what options they have if they don’t have a proper cause, and what the consequences are of walking out on a lease agreement.
Importance of Fixed Periods in Lease Agreements
Without a fixed period, a landlord generally has the same rights as the tenant to terminate tenancy (with proper notice). In the same way that a landlord lacks long-term security on a month-to-month (or shorter period) lease if a tenant decides to leave, tenants lack the same security if the landlord decides to change the terms (i.e. raise the rent) or end the lease altogether.
That’s why fixed periods are an important protection for both parties. They’re not just there to act as a restriction to tenants.
As a result, there are real legal consequences for violating the agreement without proper cause on either side. It’s important to understand when a tenant can get out a lease with a fixed period that hasn’t ended, and when a tenant can’t.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Alaska
In Alaska, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. For a month-to-month lease, 30 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (AS 34.03.290(b)). For a week-to-week lease, 14 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (AS 34.03.290(a)).
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Alaska
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Alaska 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 Alaska Stat. § 26.05.135, the term “servicemember” means a member of the armed forces of the United States, a member of the organized militia of the state, or the Alaska National Guard and Alaska Naval Militia while on active duty for the state by order of the governor.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Alaska 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 the Alaska landlord-tenant law. According to AS §§ 34.03.100, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:
- 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.
- Heat. Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times and reasonable heat between October 1 and May 1. Exceptions are cases in which the building that includes the dwelling unit is not required by law to be equipped for that purpose, or the dwelling unit is so constructed that heat or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant.
- Locks. If requested by the tenant, provide and maintain locks and furnish keys adequate to ensure the safety of the tenant’s person and property.
Smoke Detectors. Provide smoke detection devices and carbon monoxide detection devices as required under §§ 18.70.095.
Remedies for landlord’s noncompliance with essential services in Alaska (such as heat, water, sewer, electricity or plumbing), the tenant may make repairs and deduct the cost from rent (AS 34.03.180(a)(1)), procure reasonable substitute housing and be excused from paying rent until the problem is cured (AS 34.03.180(a)(3)), or the tenant may obtain damages (AS 34.03.180(a)(3). 43 AS 34.03.180(a)(2), AS 34.03.190;). Prior to taking one of these remedies, a tenant must give the landlord a written notice stating the problem and the remedy the tenant plans to take.
Remedies for landlord’s noncompliance for general services in Alaska the tenant may move if there is noncompliance with the rental agreement or the Landlord and Tenant Act affecting health and safety (AS 34.03.160(a)) or the tenant may obtain damages or injunctive relief (AS 34.03.160(b)).
Alaska code AS 34.03.100 states if there is material noncompliance affecting health and safety, the tenant can move (after giving 20 days written notice), unless the landlord corrects the problem within 10 days.
In Alaska, tenants must first give the landlord written notice describing the problem and stating that if the problem is not fixed within 10 days from receipt of the notice, the tenant will move in 20 days. If the problem is fixed within 10 days the tenancy does not terminate. If the tenant notified the landlord in writing of a problem and the landlord fixed it within the time allowed, but the landlord allows substantially the same problem to occur again within 6 months, the tenant may terminate the agreement with a 10 day written notice without allowing the landlord an opportunity to fix the problem. Tenants may not terminate a rental agreement for problems they themselves have caused.
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 Alaska, a tenant has the right to receive at least 24 hours notice before a landlord is allowed to enter their rental unit as defined in section AS 34.03.140(a). There are situations, such as in emergencies or under a court order, when the landlord does not have to provide notice to enter such as not being able to contact the tenant by ordinary means; the tenant has been gone from the property more than seven days without notice; or there is an emergency (such as smoke, water, or explosion). 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 making repairs or perform maintenance; supply necessary or agreed services; inspect for damages; show the premises to prospective buyers, renters, or contractors; or remove personal property belonging to the landlord that is not covered under the rental agreement.
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. In Alaska, a landlord or a tenant may not be locked out. If a landlord adds or changes locks, new keys must be given to the tenant right away.
5. 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.
6. Illegal Contract
In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal in the state of Alaska, 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 in Alaska, 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. On the state level, Alaska does not appear to have clear information on what defines a legal rental unit.
7. Domestic Violence
Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. If you are confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also be stalking), and want to move, check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations.
8. You or a Co-Tenant Face a Health Crisis
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 provide this, be sure to check the Alaska Landlord and Tenant Handbook for further information.
Note About Illegal Retaliation in Alaska
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.
In Alaska, landlord retaliation is judged under section §§ 34.03.310. If a landlord attempts to retaliate against a tenant, the tenant could be awarded possession of the rental unit if they have been illegally evicted or the tenant can elect to terminate the rental agreement. In either case, the tenant may be awarded up to three months’ rent or actual damages, whichever is greater, plus reasonable attorney’s fees.
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.
Talk 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 that remainder period, the landlord is required to make reasonable effort to find a new tenant (if they don’t, the previous tenant is not responsible for future rent).
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.
Alaska Code § § 35-9A-105, 35-9A-423 states that 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.
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. In Alaska the letter should include the following information:
- Sublet term
- Name and age (age not required in Anchorage AMC 05.20.020) of proposed subtenant or assignee
- The permanent home address of proposed subtenant or assignee
- Occupation, present employment, and name and address of the employer of the proposed tenant
- How many people will live in the dwelling
- Two credit references for the proposed tenant
- Names and addresses of all landlords of the applicant for the past three years
Once given this information, the landlord has 14 days to answer the request (AS 34.03.060(d)). No answer within 14 days is the same as consent, and the tenant can go ahead and sublease (AS 34.03.060(f)). The new tenants may be rejected only for certain specific reasons, and the landlord cannot unreasonably prevent subleasing (AS 34.03.060).
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.
Other Resources for Alaska Landlords & Tenants
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