Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Alaska, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Alaskan 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 Alaska to end a tenancy in general.
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. Alaska tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 14 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (AS 34.03.290(a)).
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (AS 34.03.290(b)).
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 the 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’s 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.
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
Since state landlord-tenant laws vary, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate their tenancy early in another state, but are not applicable in Alaska:
- 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 Alaska
Alaska 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 Alaska 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.
Alaska 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 Alaska 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 Alaska
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).