Breaking a Lease in New Hampshire

Breaking a Lease in New Hampshire

Last Updated: July 18, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

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

Lease Termination Notice Requirements in New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, a tenant is required to provide 30 days’ notice for fixed end date leases (NH Rev. Stat. § 540:3(II)). New Hampshire tenants also have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:

  • Notice to Terminate a Week-to-Week Lease. 30 days written notice.
  • Notice to Terminate a Month-to-Month Lease. 30 days written notice.

Delivering Notice in New Hampshire

A tenant may use one of the following methods to deliver notice to landlords:

  • Giving a copy in person; or
  • Mailing a copy via certified mail.

It’s best to review the lease agreement on how to deliver notice to the landlord.

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

Questions? To chat with a New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire, 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 New Hampshire 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 New Hampshire landlord-tenant law.

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

  • Minimum Standards of Habitability. The landlord must not lease a unit with any of the following issues (NH Rev. Stat. § 48-A:14):
    • It is infested by pests and the landlord does not conduct regular inspections and pest exterminations.
    • There is defective plumbing or faulty septic/sewage system.
    • There is unsafe wiring.
    • The walls or roof leak.
    • The plaster is falling from walls and ceilings.
    • The floors, walls or ceilings have unsafe holes.
    • The porches, stairs or railings are not sound.
    • There is trash and garbage in the common areas when the landlord has the responsibility for trash removal.
    • There is not enough running water or the hot water system does not work.
    • The gas lines leak or pilot lights are faulty.
    • The heating system is not working properly.
  • Infestations and Pest Treatment. The landlord must investigate a tenant’s report of an infestation of insects, including bed bugs, or rodents in the premises within seven days of notice of alleged infestation from the tenant or a municipal health or housing code authority, and take reasonable measures to remediate an infestation. (NH Rev. Stat.§ 540-A:3(V-a))

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 New Hampshire, a tenant has the right to receive an “adequate” amount of time under the circumstances (NH Rev. Stat. § 540-A:3(V)).
  • 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 New Hampshire, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants (NH Rev. Stat. § 540-A:3(II)).

5. Domestic Violence

New Hampshire provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence with special rental provisions for their protection. 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 of New Hampshire(NH Rev. Stat. § 540-2(VII) provides for victims of domestic violence include:

  • Proof of Status. A landlord can require proof of the protective court order establishing the tenant as a victim of domestic violence.
  • Protection from Termination. The victim of domestic violence is protected from lease termination unless the tenant fails to pay rent. 
  • Locks. At the request and expense of the tenant, the landlord must replace/re-key the locks. 

6. 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.
Questions? To chat with a New Hampshire landlord tenant attorney, click here

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in New Hampshire

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. 

note

New Hampshire state law does not require landlords to take reasonable steps to re-rent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in New Hampshire

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 New Hampshire sublease agreement click here.

Additional Resources for New Hampshire Tenants & Landlords: