Breaking a Lease in Texas

Breaking a Lease in Texas

Last Updated: July 13, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

In Texas, a tenant can end a fixed term lease early without penalty if one of several conditions are met. If none are met, the tenant is liable for all remaining rent until a new tenant is found.

Ending a Periodic Lease in Texas

In Texas, a tenant is not required to provide notice for fixed end date leases, the lease expires on the last day of the lease. However, if a tenant wishes to terminate a periodic lease, they must give the following amounts of notice:

Rent Payment Frequency Notice Needed
Week-to-Week 7 Days     (Tex. Prop Code § 91.001)
Month-to-Month 30 Days  (Tex. Prop Code § 91.001)
Quarter-to-Quarter No statute
Year-to-Year No statute

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

1. Early Termination Clause or Mutual Termination 

Some lease agreements may provide specific terms that allow a tenant to terminate a lease early in exchange for paying a penalty. Read over your 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). However, before taking this route and paying the penalty, make sure that no other conditions exist that would allow you to break the lease without paying a penalty. 

In some instances, the landlord may agree to end the lease early. Such an arrangement can occur at any point during the lease, but only if both parties agree.  This agreement is called a “mutual termination.” Neither party is required to agree to a mutual termination. If both parties do agree, it is best to write down the terms of the mutual termination and have both parties sign the agreement. 

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, 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.

However, 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 Texas, 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

Texas has specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units. If those standards are not met, a tenant must notify the landlord about the issue.  If the landlord fails to make repairs within the allowable time period, a tenant may be able to vacate the lease. 

A dwelling shall be deemed uninhabitable if it substantially lacks any of the following:

  • Hot Water. The landlord must supply running unheated and heated water. The hot water should be a minimum of 120 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Security. The landlord cannot remove any windows or doors, or locks and latches and hinges for windows and doors, unless it is to repair or replace the item that was removed. In that instance, the repair or replacement must be done “promptly.”
  • Working Smoke Alarms. The landlord must install working smoke alarms in all bedrooms and on each level of a rental unit.

However, there are additional situations where a unit may be considered uninhabitable.  For example, if there is a lack of functional plumbing, a rodent infestation, dangerous mold or any other issue or defect that “materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant” a dwelling will likely be deemed uninhabitable.  

If a tenant decides to terminate the lease, they must inform the landlord with a second written notice stating that they will terminate the lease unless the condition is repaired or remedied within a reasonable period of time (presumably seven days). Remember, a tenant has the right to terminate only if:

  • The condition materially affects the physical health or safety of an ordinary tenant;
  • The tenant has provided proper notices; and
  • The tenant is not delinquent in paying rent. (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.052)

In Texas, if the landlord had a reasonable amount of time to repair the condition (usually seven days), failed to make a diligent effort to remedy the problem, and the tenant followed the proper procedures of notifying the landlord, the tenant may be able to terminate the lease and move out.

For more information on habitability laws in Texas, click here.

4. Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violation

If a landlord seriously harasses or violates the privacy of a tenant, the tenant may be able to terminate their lease. 

  • Landlord Entry. Texas state law requires landlords to provide notice, but no notice period is specified (Tex. Property Code 92.0081). If your landlord repeatedly violates your rights to privacy or removes windows or doors, turns off your utilities, or changes the locks, the tenant would be considered “constructively evicted,” as described above.
  • 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 Texas, lockouts are generally not permitted, unless the tenant has failed to pay rent or for other specific and temporary reasons. (Tex. Prop. Code 92.0081).

5. Domestic Violence

Texas law provides tenants who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or sexual abuse with special rental provisions for their protection. If a tenant, or a tenant’s child, is the victim of  domestic violence and needs to move, they may terminate the lease, vacate the dwelling and avoid liability for future rent. However, the landlord can require tenants to provide proof before releasing the tenant from the lease. (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.016).

  • Early Termination.  A tenant may terminate the lease if the following events have occurred:
    • A judge signs an order where necessary (i.e., temporary injection, temporary ex parted order, protective order, etc.);
    • The tenant gives the landlord the proper proof of status documentation;
    • The tenant gives the landlord 30 days notice; and
    • The tenant vacates the building.
  • Proof of Status. Before terminating a lease, a tenant may have to present the landlord with the following:
    • Documentation of the stalking, assault or abuse from a licensed health care provider or someone who is otherwise qualified; or
    • Proof of:
      • A temporary injunction;
      • A temporary ex parte order;
      • A protective order; or
      • An order of emergency protection.

6. Utility Cutoff

A tenant may terminate the lease if a landlord, who has agreed in the lease to furnish and pay for utility services to the tenant’s dwelling, has cut off the utility services to the tenant’s dwelling. (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.301)

To terminate the lease in this instance, the tenant must serve the landlord with written notice and move-out within 30 days of the date the tenant received notice from the utility company of a future cutoff or notice of an actual cutoff, whichever is sooner.

7. Death of the Tenant

Under Texas law, if a tenant who was the sole occupant of the rental unit dies before the expiration of the lease, a representative of the estate of a tenant may terminate the tenant’s rights and obligations under the lease. (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.0162)

8. 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 Texas landlord tenant attorney, click here

Examples of Insufficient Justification for Lease Breaking in Texas

The below reasons are generally not enough justification (on their own) to release a tenant from the lease, and as a result, provide no legal protection against penalties for not honoring the lease.

  • The tenant bought a house.
  • The tenant is relocating for a new job or school.
  • The tenant is upgrading or downgrading.
  • The tenant is moving in with a partner.
  • The tenant is 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. 

Landlord’s Responsibility to Re-rent in Texas

According to Tex. Prop. Code § 91.006, a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit instead of charging the tenant for the total remaining rent due under the lease. This is referred to as the landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages”. If the 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 Texas

Under Tex. Prop. Code § 91.005, during the term of a lease, the tenant may not rent the leasehold to any other person without the prior consent of the landlord. To request 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.

Regardless, under Texas law, a landlord has the power to reject the request. 

For more information and to get a FREE Texas sublease agreement click here.

Additional Resources for Texas Tenants & Landlords: