Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Kentucky, when they can’t, and if a landlord is required by Kentucky law to make reasonable effort to re-rent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out a lease early without penalty, it’s important to understand the notice requirements in Kentucky to end a tenancy.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Kentucky
In Kentucky, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. Kentucky tenants must provide written notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 7 days written notice. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.695(1).
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days written notice. Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.695(2).
Delivering Notice in Kentucky
A tenant may deliver notice to the landlord using one of the following methods (Ky. Rev. Stat § 383.560(3)(b)):
- Deliver the notice to the landlord’s place of business which the rental agreement was made or to any place that is held for receipt of the communication; OR
- Mailed by certified mail of the place of business or any place for the receipt of communication.
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Kentucky
There are several scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Kentucky 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 / Permanent Change of Station (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. 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 therefore, rent is still due for the month of April.
In Kentucky, 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. Unit is Uninhabitable
Most states have specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Kentucky is no different.
If those standards are not met, proper notice is given by the tenant and the repairs 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 Kentucky landlord-tenant law.
According to Kentucky state law Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.595, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:
- Compliance. Comply with applicable building and housing codes materially affecting health and safety.
- Repairs. Make all repairs and do whatever is necessary to put and keep the premises in a fit and habitable condition.
- Common Areas. Keep all common areas of the premises in a clean and safe condition.
- 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.
- Heat. Supply running water and reasonable amounts of hot water at all times and reasonable heat between October 1 and May 1 except where 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 and supplied by a direct public utility connection.
For more information on Kentucky Habitability laws, click here.
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 Kentucky, a tenant has the right to receive at least 2 days’ notice and entry allowed only at reasonable times Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.615. There are situations when the landlord does not need to provide prior notice, such as in emergencies, under a court order, or the tenant has abandoned or surrendered the property. 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. In Kentucky, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants.
5. Domestic Violence
Kentucky provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. Kentucky state law (Ky. Rev. Stat. § 383.300) provides early termination rights for tenants (and minors) who are victims of domestic violence, provided that specified conditions are met (such as the tenant securing a temporary restraining order). Some statutes the state of Kentucky 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.
- Proof of Status. A landlord is entitled to verify the claim of domestic violence status. The tenant is required to attach a copy of the valid protective order to their termination notice. The termination notice shall be effective on a date stated in the notice that is at least 30 days after the landlord’s receipt of the notice.
6. Fire or Casualty Damage
A tenant may immediately vacate the premises if the dwelling unit is damaged or destroyed by a fire or casualty or by other natural means. The premises must be in a substantially impaired condition. The landlord must return any unused portion of the prepaid rent. (Ky. Rev. Stat. 383.650)
7. Other Reasons
A tenant may have alternative reasons to terminate a lease early. For example, the following reasons may legally permit a tenant to terminate the lease early, but are not always automatic and must be determined by a court:
- 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 or Unenforceable Contract. In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal and as a result, is generally not enforceable. (i.e. contracting with a minor)
- 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 that 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. If a tenant has a qualified disability the tenant may request early termination as a reasonable accommodation under the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Kentucky
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 without court approval or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants. If a tenant would like to break a lease for any of these reasons, the tenant should ask the landlord to agree to a mutual termination.
Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-rent in Kentucky
Kentucky state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if a tenant leaves the lease early and a landlord re-rents the unit before a lease ends, the tenant will be responsible for the amount of time the unit was vacant.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Kentucky
If the lease does not prohibit subletting, then a tenant might be in the clear to sublet. However, the lease might contain a clause requiring a tenant to obtain a landlord’s approval prior to subletting. To get the landlord’s approval, a tenant shall 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 that a tenant has notified the 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 a landlord rejects the request, know that they can only refuse the proposed subtenant based on legitimate factors. The law states that a landlord cannot unreasonably refuse to sublet.
For more information and to get a FREE Kentucky sublease agreement click here.