Signing a lease for a property, like an apartment or condo, is extremely common as this type of living offers flexibility with no long-term commitment, compared to homeownership. A standard lease is typically 12-13 months, with shorter and longer options available, depending on the rental property.
While you may intend to stay in a rental unit for the duration of your lease, it sometimes becomes necessary to break your lease for a variety of reasons. In this article, we will discuss the conditions in which you are able to break a lease, the penalties associated with it and what the landlord’s duty is once you terminate your lease agreement.
*PLEASE NOTE: This article is only intended to be used as a guideline for breaking a lease and is not to be used as legal advice.
What Is a Lease?
A lease agreement is a legal contract between a landlord and a tenant that covers the rental terms of the property and details of the responsibilities held by each party during the lease period.
Legal Conditions for Breaking a Lease in Texas
Tenants are responsible for fulfilling the entire lease term as outlined in the agreement. However, there are a few scenarios in which a tenant can legally break a lease in Texas without facing a penalty. Here are the exceptions:
Unsafe or Uninhabitable Rental Unit
If your rental unit does not meet the minimum standards for health and safety codes, you may be eligible to break a lease. In order to pursue breaking a lease under these conditions, you must give proper notice to the landlord and provide a reasonable amount of time for the repairs to be made. If the landlord fails to make the repairs, you must give a second written notice that you are terminating the lease unless the condition of the rental property is improved. If the landlord still fails to correct the situation, and you are not delinquent on your rent, you may be able to break your lease.
Landlord’s Violation of Privacy or Harassment
Actions like landlord entry without notice, removing doors and windows, turning off utilities or changing locks (all without cause) are not permitted and may be justification for relieving a tenant of their lease obligations.
If you can show evidence of a court-mandated restraining order for a situation involving domestic violence or stalking, you may be eligible to legally terminate your lease.
Active Military Service
If you enter active military service after starting a lease, you will be eligible under federal law to legally break your lease to fulfill your duty. Typically, once written notice is given to the landlord, the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due.
Insufficient Conditions for Legally Breaking a Lease in Texas
There are various reasons why you may need to break your current lease agreement; however, not all of them can be legally justified. Here are a few reasons for breaking a lease that may not receive legal protection:
- Purchasing a home
- Relocating for a job or school
- Moving in with a partner or getting married
- Moving to be closer to family
- Downsizing or upgrading
Penalties for Breaking a Lease in Texas
If you break a lease for any reason other than those stated above, you will be held responsible for paying rent for the duration of your lease term. However, there may be ways around that, depending on the agreement you signed with the landlord. Many lease agreements allow you to break a lease and pay a penalty fee (usually two months’ rent). You will still be required to give written notice and follow the standard procedures set forth by the agreement/landlord.
You may also check if your lease agreement gives you the right to sublet your apartment. Typically, this is permissible in the state of Texas. You will be responsible for finding a new, qualified tenant to sublet your property, as well as facilitating the transfer of occupancy. In this situation, it’s best to speak with your landlord for more details on the process.
Keep in mind, you will likely be responsible for any damages, cleaning fees, etc. when moving out and it is not guaranteed you will receive your deposit back. All these details should be worked out directly with the landlord.
Landlord’s Duty to Re-rent Property
By Texas law, landlords are required to take reasonable steps to re-rent a unit when a tenant breaks a lease. If your landlord re-rents the property, you will only be responsible for paying for the time the rental unit was vacant.
Tips for Breaking a Lease in Texas
If you decide breaking your lease is the best option for you, here are some tips to help make the process smoother for you and your landlord:
Review Your Entire Rental Agreement
It’s probably been a while since you read your lease agreement. Take some time to review it, so you understand what the contract states.
Set Up a Face-To-Face Meeting with Your Landlord
If possible, meet and speak directly with your landlord. Open communication and complete transparency are key to handling a tricky situation like breaking a lease.
Stay calm and professional when explaining your situation. Even though your situation may have changed, you signed a legal contract agreeing to the terms of the lease. Maintain a level head and stay professional when handling the situation for the best possible outcome.
Set Financial Expectations
Breaking a lease often includes out-of-pocket expenses. Be prepared for the process to cost money.
Get Everything in Writing
Document the process and be sure your landlord has agreed to everything in writing. This will eliminate any confusion moving forward.
Give Plenty of Notice
The more notice you give your landlord, the better. Though it may be difficult, let them know your intentions as soon as possible for a more agreeable process.
Seek Legal Advice
If you run into challenges along the way or need to understand your rights as a tenant, seek legal advice.
The process of breaking a lease can be time consuming and costly. Be sure to consider all your options before deciding whether to terminate a lease agreement.