Breaking a Lease in Minnesota

Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Minnesota, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Minnesota 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 Minnesota to end a tenancy in general.

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Minnesota

In Minnesota, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.145). Minnesota tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:

  • Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. The time of the notice must be at least as long as the interval between the time rent is due or three months, whichever is less. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.135)
  • Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. The time of the notice must be at least as long as the interval between the time rent is due or three months, whichever is less. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.135)

Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Minnesota

There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Minnesota 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).

NOTE

In Minnesota, 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

Every state has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Minnesota 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 Minnesota landlord-tenant law.

According to Minnesota state law (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.161), landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:

  • Fit for Use. The landlord is required to ensure that the premises and all common areas are fit for the use intended by the parties.
  • Maintenance. The landlord should keep the premises in reasonable repair during the term of the lease or license, except when the disrepair has been caused by the willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct of the tenant.
  • Energy Efficiency. The landlord should make the premises reasonably energy-efficient by installing weather-stripping, caulking, storm windows, and storm doors when any such measure will result in energy procurement cost savings, based on current and projected average residential energy costs in Minnesota.
  • Comply with Laws. To maintain the premises in compliance with the applicable health and safety laws of the state, and of the local units of government where the premises are located during the term of the lease or license, except when violation of the health and safety laws has been caused by the willful, malicious, or irresponsible conduct of the tenant or licensee or a person under the direction or control of the tenant or licensee.

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 Minnesota, landlords must give “reasonable notice and reason” before entering a unit ((Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.211 (Subd 2)). Reasonable reasons include:
    • Showing the unit to prospective tenants
    • Showing the unit to a prospective buyer
    • Performing maintenance work
    • Showing the unit to officials inspecting the property
    • Checking on a tenant causing a disturbance within the unit or a tenant the landlord believes is violating the lease
    • Performing housekeeping work in a seniors’ housing unit
  • 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 Minnesota, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.225, §§ 504B.375)

5. Domestic Violence

Minnesota 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 Minnesota provides for victims of domestic violence include:

  • Proof of Status. The landlord is entitled to verify the claim of Domestic Violence status. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 1(b)))
  • Termination of Lease. The tenant can terminate the lease with written notice delivered before the termination of the tenancy by mail, fax, or in person, and be accompanied by an order for protection or no-contact order. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 1(b)))
  • Safeguarding of Information. A landlord must not disclose information provided to the landlord by a tenant documenting domestic abuse. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 2))
  • Responsibility of Rent. Tenant is responsible for the rent payment for the full month in which the tenancy terminates and an additional amount equal to one month’s rent. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 3))
  • Multiple Tenants. Termination of the lease for a victim of Domestic Violence does not terminate the lease for any remaining tenants. (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 504B.206 (Subd 4))

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Minnesota

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 Minnesota:

  • 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 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.

Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.

NOTE

Minnesota 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 Minnesota

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.

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.

Additional Resources for Minnesota Tenants & Landlords: