Find out when a tenant can legally break a lease in Delaware when they can’t, what options they have if they don’t have a proper cause, and what the consequences are of walking out on a lease agreement. Learn how landlords can break a lease, when they can break one without cause, and how much notice they have to give.
Importance of Fixed Periods in Lease Agreements
Without a fixed period, a landlord generally has the same rights as the tenant to terminate tenancy (with proper notice). In the same way that a landlord lacks long-term security on a month-to-month (or shorter period) lease if a tenant decides to leave, tenants lack the same security if the landlord decides to change the terms (i.e. raise the rent) or end the lease altogether.
That’s why fixed periods are an important protection for both parties. They’re not just there to act as a restriction to tenants.
As a result, there are real legal consequences for violating the agreement without proper cause on either side. It’s important to understand when a tenant can get out a lease with a fixed period that hasn’t ended, and when a tenant can’t.
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 yearly lease with no end date. 60 days or more, in writing, from lease expiration. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 91.060)
- 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)
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.
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.
6. Illegal Contract
In some scenarios, a lease agreement may be deemed illegal in the state of Oregon, and as a result, are generally not enforceable.
- Over 1-year lease without a description of the property. For a written lease agreement with a fixed period of greater than 1 year to be valid in Oregon, it needs to have a clear description of the leased property.
- Illegal units. The definition of what constitutes an illegal rental unit can vary by location and isn’t always entirely clear. On the state level, Oregon does not appear to have clear information on what defines a legal rental unit.
7. 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)
8. Mandatory Disclosures in Oregon
Many state and local laws require landlords to disclose documentation, policies, or specific unit information to tenants prior to moving in. Since these laws vary from state to state (and sometimes by city or county) it is important to have your agreement looked over by a landlord-tenant attorney in your state to guarantee the correct disclosures are included in your lease.
Some disclosure laws impose heavy fines or legal ramifications to landlords if they are not followed. Others contain penalty provisions and may allow you to break your lease. If your landlord fails to provide you with a mandatory state or local disclosure speak with an Oregon landlord-tenant attorney to determine what can be done.
Oregon requires that landlords provide the following disclosures to tenants, normally in writing and at the start of the lease:
- Name and Addresses. The landlord must disclose the name and address of the property owner and anyone authorized to manage the property. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.305)
- Copy of the Lease. The landlord shall provide the tenant with a copy of any written rental agreement and all amendments and additions. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.220(3))
- 100-Year Floodplain. If a dwelling unit is in a 100-year flood plain, the landlord shall provide notice in the dwelling unit rental agreement that the dwelling unit is located within the floodplain. (Or. Rev. Stat. §§ 90.2280)
The only federally required landlord disclosure pertains to lead-based. Known as Title X, this disclosure is designed to protect families from exposure to lead from paint, dust, and soil. Section 1018 of this law requires the disclosure of known information on lead-based paint and lead-based paint hazards before the sale or lease of housing built before 1978.
9. You or a Co-Tenant Face a Health Crisis
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. Since not all states allow this statute, be sure to check the Oregon Landlord and Tenant Handbook for further information.
Note About Illegal Retaliation in Oregon
In July of 2019, House Bill 346 (which became § 44-7-24) went into effect providing tenants with protection against landlords that retaliate to actions such as giving the notice to make repairs or reporting to governmental entities about violations in building or housing codes. The bill does not state that these types of illegal retaliation are enough justification for lease termination, but the bill does allow for a sizable penalty against the landlord if they’re found in violation (1 month’s rent + legal fees + $500), which could help offset the costs of penalty fees associated with early termination.
In Oregon, landlords must not terminate or refuse to renew a lease to a tenant who has filed an official complaint to a government body, or for involvement in a tenant’s organization. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.385)
Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking
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 or in any conditions not previously outlined can have tangible consequences for tenants.
Tenant’s Options if Legal Justification is Not Met
If the previously stated legal conditions are not met, there are still a few options that a tenant has that could allow for them to not be obligated to pay rent until the end of the fixed period.
Talk with the landlord
Some landlords may be understanding and willing to negotiate with a tenant. Every situation is different, and every landlord is different. A tenant’s best chance at getting a landlord to work with them is being honest about the reasons for leaving, to provide as much notice as possible, and to propose possible resolutions that could be mutually beneficial (i.e. by paying 2 month’s rent).
Aid in finding a new tenant
If the tenant moves out before the end of the fixed period, they are still required to pay rent until the end of the period until a new tenant is found. During that remainder period, the landlord is required to make reasonable effort to find a new tenant (if they don’t, the previous tenant is not responsible for future rent).
Therefore, the previous tenant may choose to be proactive and help to find a new tenant on their own, instead of waiting for the landlord to find one. The landlord does not have to accept the newly found tenant if they have reasonable justification (i.e. they have bad credit or rental history), but helping to find a new tenant can only help increase a tenant’s chances of being relieved of future rent.
Oregon law does require your landlord to make reasonable efforts to re-rent the unit instead of charging you for the total remaining rent due under the lease. (Or. Rev. Stat. § 90.410)
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.
Consequences of Illegal Lease Breaking
If a tenant breaks a lease without mutual agreement from the landlord or without the proper legal justification and does not pay the rent due for the remainder of the fixed period, the tenant faces the following consequences.
- Loss of security deposit. Usually, at a minimum, a landlord may choose to withhold the security deposit.
- Lawsuit. A landlord may sue the tenant for unpaid rent during the fixed period, which if won, could result in the tenant facing a money judgment. That judgment, if not paid on the spot or if terms are not set for a long-term payment plan, could result in the garnishment of the tenant’s wages or bank account.
- Impact on credit score. While a money judgment won’t show up on a tenant’s credit report (thanks to the National Consumer Assistance Plan), if the landlord chooses to go an alternative route to collecting on unpaid rent by using a debt collection agency, the tenant’s credit score could be severely impacted.
- Difficulty in finding future housing. Whether or not a tenant provides the landlord’s name & contact information themselves when looking to buy or rent in the future, a background check will most likely provide the future landlord or mortgage lender with that information. That previous landlord could provide a very negative reference.
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