Breaking a Lease in Missouri

Last Updated: March 21, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Missouri, when they can’t, and if a landlord is required by Missouri 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 Missouri to end a tenancy.

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Missouri

In Missouri, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease (MO Rev. Stat. §§ 441.070). Missouri tenants must provide written notice for the following lease terms:

Delivering Notice in Missouri

A tenant can deliver the notice to their landlord by using one of the following methods:

  • Deliver the notice in person; or
  • Mail the notice via first class mail with a return receipt requested.

Be sure to check the lease agreement of any specific delivery methods.

There are several scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Missouri without penalty. We’ll go through each of them below.

Questions? To chat with a Missouri landlord tenant attorney, Click here

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.

NOTE

In Missouri, 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 Missouri 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 Missouri landlord-tenant law.

According to Missouri state law, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following:

  • Habitability. Make property habitable before tenants move in.
  • Repairs. Make and pay for repairs due to ordinary wear and tear.
  • Utilities. Refrain from turning off a tenant’s water, electricity or gas.

For more information on habitability laws in Missouri, 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 Missouri, 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 Missouri, landlords are not allowed to lock out a tenant (Mo. Rev. Stat. §§ 441.233(1)).

5. Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault, or Stalking

Missouri provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. Missouri state law (MO Rev. Stat. § 441.920) provides early termination rights for tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking provided that specified conditions are met (such as the tenant securing a temporary restraining order). Some statutes the state of Missouri 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, sexual assault, or stalking. Additionally, landlords cannot end a lease or refuse to renew a lease because the tenant was a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
  • Proof of Status. A landlord is entitled to verify the claim of domestic violence status. The tenant is required to give documentation of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking by providing one of the following forms:
    1. A document signed by a health care professional, mental health professional, or an employee of a victim service provider; or
    2. A police report, court report or administrative agency’s record.
Questions? To chat with a Missouri landlord tenant attorney, Click here

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Missouri

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 Missouri:

  • 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.

Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-rent in Missouri

According to Missouri law (§§ 535.300(3)(3)), a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit instead of charging a tenant for the total remaining rent due under the lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”.  If a landlord re-rents the property quickly, the tenant will only be responsible for the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Missouri

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 Missouri sublease agreement click here.

Additional Resources for Missouri Tenants & Landlords: