Cost of Breaking a Lease in Alabama

Cost of Breaking a Lease in Alabama

Last Updated: October 13, 2023 by Phil Ahn

In Alabama, tenants that break their lease early may be held liable for all remaining rent due and any property damage. However, landlords must make a reasonable effort to re-rent and must stop charging the old tenant if a new tenant is found.

Breaking a Lease Early Without Penalty in Alabama

In Alabama, a tenant may break a lease without penalty under the following circumstances:

  • Violations of the implied warranty of habitability
  • Retaliation against the tenant for requesting a repair or reporting to a government entity
  • Permanent change in military station resulting in relocation
  • Early termination clause
  • Harassment or violations of the tenant’s privacy
  • Domestic or sexual violence
  • Death of the sole tenant
  • Refusal to reasonably accommodate a tenant with physical or mental disability
  • Unenforceable, illegal, or void lease

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In Alabama, a landlord can charge an early termination fee if the tenant breaks a lease early, but it must be written into the contract along with the terms. For example, a landlord may require 30-days’ notice and 2 months’ rent in order to break the lease early.

How Much Remaining Rent Could Tenants Owe in Alabama?

Alabama does not have a law limiting the amount a tenant owes a landlord when breaking a lease early. A tenant could be liable for paying the remaining rent through the life of the lease. However, a landlord must mitigate damages and seek to replace the tenant.

Landlord’s Duty to Mitigate Damages in Alabama

When a lease is broken early in Alabama, a landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent their unit. Once the landlord finds a new renter, the tenant who broke the lease early does not need to keep making rental payments. This is called a landlord’s duty to “mitigate damages .”

Although Alabama law gives no definition of what reasonable effort means when re-renting the unit, some examples include:

  • The landlord must prepare the property for a new tenant in the same way they would as if they were between leases.
  • The landlord must advertise the rental vacancy.

However, if a landlord cannot find a new tenant, the prior tenant is still liable for the remaining rent owed under their lease.

A landlord is not required to fill the unit with any tenant who wants to move in. The landlord is allowed to apply the same standards that they apply to all rental applications, such as having sufficient income to cover rent. 

Tenant’s Right to Sublet in Alabama

A tenant can legally sublet in Alabama, but only with the explicit permission of the landlord. Unless the lease states otherwise, a tenant’s right to sublease is contingent upon receiving the landlord’s written consent.

Even though a tenant might have permission to sublet, the landlord retains the right to reject a prospective subtenant. Reasons for rejection might include the subtenant being financially unable to make the lease payments.

If a tenant subleases their unit without the landlord’s explicit written permission, the tenant is in breach of their lease. In Alabama, a lease violation permits a landlord to evict the tenant and subtenant (starting with a 7 Day Notice to Comply or Vacate) and to sue the original tenant for any resulting damages.

In addition to the landlord, the subtenant also may have grounds to take legal action if the original tenant sublet the unit without the landlord’s permission.

Consequences for Moving Out Early in Alabama

If a tenant breaks their lease and moves out early, the potential consequences include:

  • The landlord keeping the security deposit
  • The landlord suing the tenant for damages
  • A lower credit score
  • A potential bad reference in the future

Can the Landlord Keep the Security Deposit?

If a tenant breaks a lease early, the landlord may be able to keep all or part of the security deposit depending on how much the tenant still owes in damages or remaining rent.

A landlord may deduct from the deposit the amount of rent the landlord loses when a tenant breaks a lease early. The original tenant will continue to owe rent until a new tenant is found. If the owed rent becomes larger than the deposit amount, the landlord can hold the tenant liable for the differenceassuming the landlord has made a reasonable effort to re-rent the unit.

A landlord will be able to deduct property-related damage costs from the security deposit. The damages must have been caused by the tenant’s negligence and carelessness and not normal wear and tear.

Can the Tenant Be Sued for Damages?

If a tenant breaks a lease early in Alabama, the landlord can sue a tenant for a breach of contract for the remaining rent due or for any property damage. Damages for less than $6,000 are considered “small claims” in Alabama and should be filed in Alabama Small Claims Court.

If a landlord files in small claims court, they cannot bring a claim for more than $6,000. If suing for damages greater than $6,000, a landlord can file a claim in the Circuit Court for the county in which they live.