Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in New Jersey, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by New Jersey 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 New Jersey to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in New Jersey
In New Jersey, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases. New Jersey tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease terms:
- Notice to terminate a week-to-week lease. 7 Days (§§ 2A:18-56(c))
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 1 Month (§§ 2A:18-56(b)
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 3 Months (§§ 2A:18-56(a))
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in New Jersey
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in New Jersey 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).
In New Jersey, 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 New Jersey 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 New Jersey landlord-tenant law.
According to New Jersey state law, landlord duties to provide habitable premises include the following (N.J.S.A. 46:8-27 thru 37):
- Compliance. Comply with the requirements of 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 (minimum 68 degrees) or hot water is generated by an installation within the exclusive control of the tenant and supplied by a direct public utility connection. (§§ 5:10-14.4(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 Jersey, a tenant has the right to receive a “reasonable” amount of notification. (N.J.A.C. 5:10-1.1)
- 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 Jersey, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants. If the landlord continues in “disorderly conduct”, the landlord may be sentenced to up to six months in jail. (§§ 2C:43-8)
5. Domestic Violence
New Jersey 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 state laws that may apply in domestic violence situations.
Some statutes the state of New Jersey provides for victims of domestic violence include (NJSA 46:8-9.4):
- Protection from Termination. A tenant who is a victim of domestic violence may terminate a lease if the tenant gives landlord written notice that the tenant or tenant’s child faces the imminent threat of serious physical harm from another named person if the tenant remains on the leased premises.
- Proof of Status. The landlord may require that the tenant provide official written proof of status as a victim of domestic violence.
- Security Deposit Return. The landlord has 15 days from lease termination due to a claim domestic violence to have available and return the security deposit plus the tenant’s portion of the interest or accumulated earnings.
- Landlord Disclosure Prohibited. Landlord shall not disclose information documenting domestic violence that has been provided to the landlord by a victim of domestic violence, nor enter the information into any shared database or provide it to any person or entity. The information may be used when required as evidence in an eviction proceeding, action for unpaid rent or damages, with the consent of the tenant, or as otherwise required by law.
6. Senior Citizen or Health Issue
If you, a dependent living with you, or your co-tenant, face a serious physical or mental health issue you may qualify for early lease termination without obligation to pay the entire balance of rent due. Some states offer permitted, health-related lease-breaking arrangements that are age-restricted. Most states require a note from a locally licensed physician and at least 30 days’ notice. New Jersey provides the following statute:
- Early termination rights for tenants who face a health crisis. State law (N.J. Stat. Ann. § 46:8-9.2) provides early termination rights for tenants who suffer a disabling illness or accident, or who are 62 years of age or older and need to move into an assisted living facility, nursing home, or continuing care community; such early termination rights are contingent upon the tenant meeting specified conditions (such as a physician’s certification of the tenant’s need to move out of the current rental unit).
Be sure to check The New Jersey Landlord and Tenant Handbook for further information.
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in New Jersey
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 New Jersey:
- 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.
Breaking a lease for any of the above reasons or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
New Jersey 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 New Jersey
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.