Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Oregon, when they can’t, and whether or not a landlord is required by Oregon law to make reasonable effort to rerent.
Before we address the legally acceptable reasons to get out of a lease early without penalty, it’s important to know the notice requirements in Oregon to end a tenancy in general.
Lease Termination Notice Requirements in Oregon
In Oregon, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases (Or. Rev. Stat. § 91.080). Oregon tenants have to provide written notice for the following lease term:
- Notice to terminate a month-to-month lease. 30 days or more, in writing, from lease expiration (Or. Rev. Stat. § 91.070). If the tenant has lived in the unit for more than one year, 60 days’ notice must be given. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.427)
- Notice to terminate a yearly lease with no end date. 60 days or more, in writing, from lease expiration. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 91.060)
Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Oregon
There are a handful of scenarios where a tenant can legally break a lease in Oregon 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 Oregon, 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 Oregon 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 Oregon landlord-tenant law.
In Oregon, a dwelling is uninhabitable if it substantially lacks (§90-320):
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including windows and doors.
- Plumbing facilities that conform to applicable law in effect at the time of installation, and maintained in good working order.
- Electrical lighting with wiring and electrical equipment that conform to applicable law at the time of installation and maintained in good working order.
- Buildings, grounds, and appurtenances at the time of the commencement of the rental agreement in every part safe for normal and reasonably foreseeable uses, clean, sanitary and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin, and all areas under the control of the landlord kept in every part safe for normal and reasonably foreseeable uses, clean, sanitary and free from all accumulations of debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.
- Ventilating, air conditioning and other facilities and appliances, including elevators, maintained in good repair if supplied or required to be supplied by the landlord.
- Safety from fire hazards, including a working smoke alarm or smoke detector.
- A carbon monoxide alarm and the dwelling unit or the structure in which the dwelling unit is a part contains a carbon monoxide source.
- Working locks for all dwelling entrance doors, and, unless contrary to applicable law, latches for all windows.
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 Oregon, the landlord must give 24 hours notice and the notice must provide the reason for entry, the date and time of entry, and identify who entered the unit (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.322(b)).
- 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 Oregon, landlords are not allowed to lockout tenants. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.375)
5. Violation of 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). Because each lease agreement is different, carefully read over the duties and requirements for both parties to understand if a violation has been made, and whether or not there is language describing how certain violations are to be handled.
In Oregon, if a landlord is noncompliant with the rental agreement or obligation to maintain premises:
- The tenant may deliver a written notice to the landlord specifying the acts and omissions constituting the breach and that the rental agreement will terminate upon a date not less than 30 days after delivery of the notice if the breach is not remedied in seven days in the case of an essential service or 30 days in all other cases. (ORS 90.320 or 90.730, 90.360)
- If substantially the same act or omission that constituted a prior noncompliance of which notice was given recurs within six months, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement upon at least 14 days’ written notice specifying the breach and the date of termination of the rental agreement.
6. Domestic Violence
Many states protect tenants who are victims of domestic violence. 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 Oregon provides for victims of domestic violence include:
- Proof of Status. The landlord is entitled to verify a tenant’s claim of Domestic Violence status. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.453)
- Termination of Lease. If the tenant or a tenant’s immediate family member is a domestic violence victim, the landlord shall release the tenant or family member of the tenant from the rental agreement if the tenant gives a landlord at least 14 days’ written notice making such a request. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.453(2b))
- Locks. Landlords must change the locks if requested by a domestic violence victim, at the tenant’s expense. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.459)
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Oregon
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 Oregon:
- 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 and 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 Rerent in Oregon
Oregon state law does require landlords to take reasonable steps to rerent their unit when a tenant breaks their lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. This means that if you leave your lease early and your landlord rerents the unit before your lease ends, then the rent received from the new tenant will apply to your debt.
In Oregon, if the tenant abandons the dwelling unit, the landlord shall make reasonable efforts to rent it for a fair rental. If the landlord rents the dwelling unit for a term beginning before the expiration of the rental agreement, the rental agreement terminates as of the date of the new tenancy. If the landlord fails to use reasonable efforts to rent the dwelling unit at a fair rental or if the landlord accepts the abandonment as a surrender, the rental agreement is deemed to be terminated by the landlord as of the date the landlord knows or should know of the abandonment. If the tenancy is from month to month or week to week, the term of the rental agreement for this purpose is deemed to be a month or a week, as the case may be. (90.410(3))
Oregon tenants who break their lease early without proper justification should still plan on losing at least one month’s rent, even though the landlord has a responsible to rerent. In Oregon and other states where the law requires the landlord to make a reasonable effort to rerent, judges in civil courts commonly award landlords with at least one month’s rent, no matter how quickly the unit is rented.
Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Oregon
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.