Have you been offered the job or promotion of your dreams – in another city or state? Maybe you experienced a life-changing event or graduated ahead of schedule. Whatever the reason, you find you must terminate your lease prior to full term.
Your lease contains terms and obligations for both you and your landlord for a set period of time. Among your legally binding obligations is to pay rent through the full term of the lease (usually one year). This is true by Texas law whether or not you continue to reside in the rental unit.
However, Texas law also offers several legal justifications for breaking a lease. Under these situations, you may be able to legally move out prior to the end of your lease term:
• Active Military Duty: you have the legal right to terminate your lease if you are called to duty or enter into active military service. The federal law, War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. §§ 501 stipulates you must be part of the “uniformed services” and provide your landlord written notice of your intent to terminate your lease due to military service reasons. Your tenancy terminates 30 days following the next rent due date.
• Harassment: you may terminate your lease if your landlord behaves in a harassing or retaliatory manner such as:
o Repeatedly violating your privacy.
o Making unusual changes like changing the locks removing doors or windows, or cutting off utilities.
Such actions may justify your breaking the lease, legally, and without further rent obligation.
• Sexual Assault or Stalking: if you are the victim of sexual assault or stalking, or are the parent of a victim, Texas state law Prop. Code Ann. § 92.0161allows you to terminate tenancy early as long as you have met the law’s stated conditions (e.g., securing a protective order).
• Unit Safety or Health Code Violations: your landlord is obligated to provide habitable housing that meets local and state housing codes. If this is not the case, the court may conclude that you are “constructively evicted” because of unlivable housing conditions. Texas law establishes specific requirements for you to follow before you move out and the problem must be significant, like the lack of an essential service (such as heat or water).
Lack of a Serious Issue?
Let us hope that you do not have a “dire cause” need to break your lease. Texas law (Tex. Prop. Code Ann. § 91.006) allows you to break your lease, even without legal justification.
Your landlord is obligated to make reasonable effort to quickly re-rent your unit instead of automatically charging you the total remaining amount due. According to law, it is your landlord’s responsibility to “mitigate damages.”
Your landlord may legally add advertising expenses to your bill and you may be liable for the remaining rent if your landlord has made all reasonable efforts but is unable to re-rent the unit. The landlord may use your security deposit to cover the amount owed and charge you for any remaining balance.
Make it Easier on Yourself and Your Landlord
Before you break your lease, review it. There may be an opt-out clause that outlines exactly what you will be responsible for and the steps you must take.
Speak with your landlord as soon as the need to terminate arises. You’re a responsible renter and you may need an excellent reference from a former landlord. Be honest as to what is happening and give as much advance notice as possible.
You may also volunteer to help find an acceptable replacement renter to mitigate some of your potential financial loss.
Prepare yourself as fully as possible before notifying your landlord of your early lease termination plan. If you have any concerns about your legal rights or state laws regarding lease obligations, seek legal counsel and review the guidelines posted on texas.gov.
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