Breaking a Lease in Texas

Last Updated: March 25, 2022 by Elizabeth Souza

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

Lease Termination Notice Requirements 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. Texas tenants must provide written notice for the following lease terms:

  • Notice to Terminate a Week-to-Week Lease. No statute. 
  • Notice to Terminate a Month-to-Month Lease. The tenancy terminates on whichever of the following days is the later:

Delivering Notice in Texas

In most cases, a written lease agreement should include information and other specifics on how and when to deliver a notice to terminate the tenancy. Some common ways to deliver the notice to the landlord are by mail or by delivering the written notice in person; however, it’s best to review the lease agreement to see which delivery method the landlord prefers.

If notice is not given, it could result in penalties and consequences.

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

Questions? To chat with a Texas 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 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

Most states have specific health and safety codes that provide minimum standards for rental units, and Texas 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 the Texas landlord-tenant law.

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

  • Hot Water. Landlords in Texas 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.”

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 has clearly had a reasonable amount of time to repair the condition (usually seven days) and has failed to make a diligent effort to remedy the problem and the tenant has properly followed the procedures of notifying the landlord, they 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 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. 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 does removes windows or doors, turns off your utilities, or changes the locks, you 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 permitted (Tex. Prop. Code 92.0081).

5. Domestic Violence

Texas 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. In Texas, landlords can require tenants to provide proof of domestic violence status before releasing tenants from a lease (Tex. Prop. Code § 92.016).

  • Early Termination. The landlord must inform the tenant, in writing, that they may break a lease early in special circumstances involving sexual assault, sexual abuse, or domestic violence. A tenant may terminate the lease if all the following events have occurred:
    • A judge signs an order (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 written notice of termination of the lease to the landlord on or before the 30th day before the lease terminates;
    • The 30th day after the date the tenant provided notice; AND
    • The tenant vacates the building.
  • Proof of Status. Landlords can require tenants to provide proof of domestic violence status before releasing tenants from a lease. A written 30-day notice shall be provided to the landlord along with a copy of one of the following documents:
    • A temporary injunction;
    • A temporary ex parte order;
    • A protective order;
    • An order of emergency protection; OR
    • Documentation of the family violence against the tenant or an occupant form by a licensed health care provider, a licensed mental health provider, or an advocate who has assisted the victim.
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 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 Texas:

  • 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.
  • 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 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 be responsible for the amount of time the unit was vacant.

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Texas

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 Texas sublease agreement click here.

Additional Resources for Texas Tenants & Landlords: