Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Colorado, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Colorado 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 Colorado to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Colorado
In Colorado, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease (C.R.S. 13-40-107-4). All of the remaining lease terms require written notice based on their length:
- Notice to terminate a 1 week or less lease. 1 day (C.R.S. 13-40-107-1e)
- Notice to terminate a 1 week to 1-month lease. 3 days (C.R.S. 13-40-107-1d)
- Notice to terminate a 1-6 month lease. 7 days (C.R.S. 13-40-107-1c)
- Notice to terminate a 6-12 month lease. 28 days (C.R.S. 13-40-107-1b)
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 91 days written notice (C.R.S. 13-40-107-1a). These do not have a fixed date, they renew yearly.
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Colorado
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Colorado 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 Colorado, 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. You must give your landlord written notice of your intent to terminate your tenancy for military reasons. Once the notice is mailed or delivered, your tenancy will terminate 30 days after the date that rent is next due, even if that date is several months before your lease expires.
3. Unit is Uninhabitable
Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Colorado 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 Colorado landlord-tenant law.
According to C.R.S. 38-12-505, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:
- Waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls maintained in good working order, including unbroken windows and doors
- Plumbing or gas facilities that conformed to applicable law in effect at the time of installation and that are maintained in good working order
- Running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times furnished to appropriate fixtures and connected to a sewage disposal system approved under applicable law
- Functioning heating facilities that conformed to applicable law at the time of installation and that are maintained in good working order
- Electrical lighting, with wiring and electrical equipment that conformed to applicable law at the time of installation, maintained in good working order
- Common areas and areas under the control of the landlord that are kept reasonably clean, sanitary, and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, and garbage and that have appropriate extermination in response to the infestation of rodents or vermin
- Appropriate extermination in response to the infestation of rodents or vermin throughout a residential premise
- An adequate number of appropriate exterior receptacles for garbage and rubbish, in good repair
- Floors, stairways, and railings maintained in good repair
- Locks on all exterior doors and locks or security devices on windows designed to be opened that are maintained in good working order
- Compliance with all applicable building, housing, and health codes, which, if violated, would constitute a condition that is dangerous or hazardous to a tenant’s life, health, or safety
No deficiency in the common area shall render a residential premise uninhabitable as set forth in this section unless it materially and substantially limits the tenant’s use of his or her dwelling unit.
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. Colorado state law does not specify an amount of notice your landlord must give to enter a rental property.
- 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 Colorado, lockouts are not allowed, and if a landlord changes the locks the tenant can sue for damages (C.R.S. 38-12-510)
5. Domestic Violence
Colorado 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 Colorado provides for victims of domestic violence include:
- Termination of Lease. A landlord cannot terminate the lease of a victim of domestic violence (C.R.S. 13-40-107.5-c).
- Proof of Status. A landlord may require proof of domestic violence status (C.R.S. 38-12-402-2).
- Protection from termination. A landlord shall not include in a residential rental agreement or lease agreement for housing a provision authorizing the landlord to terminate the agreement or to impose a penalty on a residential tenant for calls made by the residential tenant for peace officer assistance or other emergency assistance in response to a domestic violence or domestic abuse situation (C.R.S. 38-12-402-1).
6. Gas-Related Hazards
If you become aware of any hazardous condition of a gas appliance, piping, or other gas equipment, you are required under Colorado law to immediately inform your landlord or the landlord’s agent in writing of the existence of the hazard. (Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-104(2).) Your landlord then has 72 hours (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays) to have the condition repaired by a professional. If the landlord doesn’t make the repairs within 72 hours, and your building is still hazardous, you can vacate the rental, and your lease becomes void (you are released from all responsibility under a lease). You can also demand the return of your security deposit (minus any allowable deductions), Colo. Rev. Stat. § 38-12-104(3)-(4).
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Colorado
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 Colorado:
- 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.
Colorado state law does not require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Colorado
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.
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.