Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Arkansas, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Arkansas 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 Arkansas to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Arkansas
In Arkansas, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Arkansas 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 (A.C.A. § 18-17-704).
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days written notice from either the landlord or the tenant is required (A.C.A. § 18-17-704).
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Arkansas
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Arkansas 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).
In Arkansas, 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.
3. 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. Arkansas state law (Ark. Code Anne § 18-17-602) does not specify the amount of notice your landlord must give to enter a rental property. If your landlord repeatedly violates your rights to privacy or does remove windows or doors, turns off your utilities, or changes the locks, you would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above.
- 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 Arkansas, there is no statute on lockouts.
4. Domestic Violence
Arkansas provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. 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. Some statutes the state of Arkansas provides 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. Additionally, landlords cannot end a lease or refuse to renew a lease because the tenant was a victim of domestic violence (A.C.A. § 18-16-112(b)).
- Locks. If a tenant is a victim of domestic violence, they can have the locks changed at their own expense (A.C.A. § 18-16-112(b)). Either the landlord or tenant may change the locks. Whoever changes the locks must provide the other party with a copy of the new keys as soon as possible.
- Proof of status. A landlord is entitled to verify the claim of Domestic Violence status. The tenant will need to provide the landlord with a copy of the restraining order (A.C.A. § 18-16-112(d)).
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Arkansas
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 Arkansas:
- The unit is uninhabitable. Arkansas is the only state that does not have specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units.
- 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.
- 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 Arkansas
Arkansas state law does not require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease.
In many states, landlords have to make a reasonable attempt to rerent the dwelling and, if they are successful in rerenting, credit rent received from the new tenant to your debt. Unfortunately, landlords in Arkansas (Weingarten/Arkansas, Inc. v. ABC Interstate Theatres, Inc., 811 S.W.2d 295 (Ark. 1991)) do not have to try to rent their property quickly to keep their losses to a minimum if you move before a lease ends.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Arkansas
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 to prove that you notified your landlord.
Arkansas law states that tenants cannot sublet their dwelling without obtaining written approval from the landlord stating how much rent they have authorized to charge. Fines include imprisonment for up to six months and fined up to $500.