Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Maryland, when they can’t, and if a landlord is required by Maryland 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 Maryland to end a tenancy.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Maryland
In Maryland, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease (§§ 441.070). Maryland tenants must provide written notice for the following lease terms (Md Real Property Code, Real Property, 8-402(b)(3)):
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 1 week
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 1 month
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease. 3 months, except farm tenancies which are 6 months.
Delivering Notice in Maryland
A notice may be delivered to the landlord by using one of the following methods:
- Delivering notice in person; or
- Sending the notice via first-class mail.
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Maryland
There are several scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Maryland 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 Maryland, 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 Maryland 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 Maryland landlord-tenant law.
Maryland Code, Real Property, §8-211 states the landlord must repair and eliminate conditions and defects which constitute, or if not promptly corrected will constitute, a fire hazard or a serious and substantial threat to the life, health or safety of occupants, including, but not limited to:
- Lack of heat, light, electricity, or hot or cold running water, except where the tenant is responsible for the payment of the utilities and the lack thereof is the direct result of the tenant’s failure to pay the charges.
- Lack of adequate sewage disposal facilities.
- Infestation of rodents in two or more dwelling units.
- The existence of any structural defect which presents a serious and substantial threat to the physical safety of the occupants.
- The existence of any condition which presents a health or fire hazard to the dwelling unit.
For more information on habitability laws in Maryland, 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 Maryland, there is no statute for how much notice a landlord should provide their tenant. The right of entry must be stated in the lease.
- 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 Maryland, landlords are not allowed to lock out a tenant.
5. Domestic Violence
Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. If a tenant is confronting a domestic violence situation (this can also be stalking), and wants to move, check with local law enforcement regarding special state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations. Some statutes the state provides for victims of domestic violence include:
- Early Termination. The tenant may terminate a lease early in special circumstances involving sexual assault, sexual abuse, or domestic violence (Md Real Property Code, 8-5A-02(a)).
- Proof of Status. Landlords can require tenants to provide proof of domestic violence status from tenants. The documentation shall include a copy of the protective order or a copy of the peace order. (Md Real Property Code, 8-5A-03 and 8-5A-04).
The tenant has 30 days to vacate the rental property from the date that is provided in the notice.
6. Senior Citizen or Health Issue
Maryland allows a tenant to break the lease due to a medical condition. The tenant will not be liable for more than 2 months’ rent after the date the tenant vacates. The tenant must provide the landlord with a written certification from a physician, the certification must be as follows (Maryland Code § 8-212.2):
“I, (name of physician), hereby certify that my patient, (name of patient), is no longer able to live at his or her leased premises, (address of leased premises), because the patient has a medical condition that: (1) Substantially restricts the physical mobility of the patient within, or from entering and exiting, the leased premises; or (2) Requires the patient to move to a home, facility, or institution to obtain a higher level of care than can be provided at the leased premises.
I certify further that the expected duration of the patient’s medical condition will continue beyond the termination date of the patient’s lease, which the patient states is (termination date of lease).”
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.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Maryland
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 Maryland
According to Maryland Code 8-207, a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit instead of charging the tenant for the total remaining rent due under the lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if a tenant leaves the lease early and the landlord re-rents the unit before the lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to the tenant’s debt.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Maryland
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 Maryland sublease agreement click here.