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When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Lease?

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Marina Shlomov - Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A lease is a binding contract between the tenant and the landlord. Once it is signed, both parties are in agreement that the duties stated within the document will be performed for the length of time that is stated in the lease. 

There are usually ways out of the lease. For instance, within the body of the contract, there is often verbiage that refers to what needs to happen in order to legally break the lease. Each landlord and property management company will have varying requirements. 

To walk away from the rental property and disregard the lease altogether is not the best way for a tenant to go about his or her business, regardless of the circumstances. In fact, this method can lead to some legal troubles. 

The best option? Do things the right way. Sometimes things come up. Sometimes a tenant has to move for a new job. Or, perhaps the tenant just has reasons for needing to go elsewhere. Whatever the reason, there is a legal way to handle it.

Open Communication. Allowing free communication between the landlord and the tenant is a great way to know when something comes up. The more unapproachable the landlord is, the more likely a tenant may be to up and leave. Discuss the particular situation and see if you can come to an agreement based on the available options.

These options may include: 

  • Continue paying off the lease until the rental property can be re-rented. 
  • Paying a lump sum, generally equivalent to a couple of months’ rent – as well as the forfeiture of the security deposit. 
  • Subletting your rental property. Though, this is not the most recommended method when it comes to tenants breaking a lease. 

If an agreement cannot be made or if the lease fails to spill out clear details, legal guidance may be sought. 

Did you know that a tenant can break the lease – legally – without any issue when the landlord or property manager does not do as stated?

Yep. Just as a landlord can evict a tenant when they don’t pay rent, they need to live up to his or her part of the agreement. 

So, in what situations may a tenant be able to scoot on out legally? If the landlord or property manager fails to… 

  • Follow health and safety codes, thus providing less-than habitable conditions. 
  • Follow Fair Housing laws. 
  • Provide running water at all times. 
  • Perform necessary repairs. 
  • Keep common areas tidy (for instance, in the case of apartment complexes)
  • Provide privacy to the tenants.

These are just a few of the reasons. Therefore, make sure that, as a landlord, you follow your end of the deal when it comes to the lease agreement. Otherwise, you may find yourself with vacant property. 

Finally, tenants can legally leave and break the lease if they are on active military duty and receive orders. Or, if there is a report of domestic violence at the residence. 

The lease agreement is a great guide for most termination instances. However, situations may arise that don’t fit neatly in the body of a standard lease agreement. This requires both parties to discuss how to properly – and legally – terminate the lease. Working together allows the situation to flow smoothly.

 Marina Shlomov, a managing partner at ALH|Podland Realty and Atlanta Rental Homes Property Management is the author of many articles on Landlording, Real Estate, Rental Property Management, Atlanta Property Management, and Real Estate Investing. A residential builder in the state of Georgia since 1999, Marina is an investor herself. Her Atlanta property management company is intended “For Investors” and “By Investors” for a simple reason – she knows what investors’ goals are and she works hard to reach their goals. In her spare time, Marina likes to spend time with her family, friends, garden, read and travel. Check her out at You can find Marina’s articles and comments at @rentalhomesatl on Twitter, on Facebook, Google+, Blogger. and YouTubeBiggerPockets and REI CLub and LinkedIn.

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