Can a Landlord Break a Lease Early?

A landlord can break a lease early, but only for specific reasons. If a tenant stops paying the rent or otherwise violates their lease, the landlord may be within their rights to terminate the agreement. But if the tenant has not violated the terms of their lease, it is generally illegal for the landlord to break the lease prematurely.

When Landlords Can Legally Break Leases Early

The most common conditions in which a landlord can legally break a lease are those outlined in the lease agreement itself. If a tenant violates a part of the lease, and the lease specifically says that the landlord has a right to terminate the agreement, a landlord can break the lease early in most cases.

The most common form of violation that gives a landlord the ability to terminate the agreement before the end of the stated term is failure to pay rent. However, that’s just one example.

Other situations that could give a landlord the right to break the lease include:

  • Moving in a new occupant without permission
  • Bringing in a pet when there is a no-pet policy
  • Conducting illegal activity (such as dealing drugs) on or near the property
  • Harassing other tenants or being disruptive
  • Causing significant damage to the property

These aren’t the only circumstances that may permit a landlord to break a lease. Essentially, if there is a condition in the lease that the tenant violates, it could allow the landlord to terminate “with cause,” meaning they are ending the arrangement due to violation. Whether the landlord has the right to request an immediate departure can vary. In some cases, that’s an option. In others, formal eviction proceedings may be necessary.

There can be other legal early termination scenarios, as well. If your landlord put a clause in the lease giving them the ability to break the agreement early if they want to sell the property or move themselves in, that may be legal. However, it must be stated in the lease. Additionally, they have to give proper notice in accordance with state law, usually 30 days.

At times, a landlord may be able to ask a tenant to move out to handle certain kinds of repairs or renovations. Certain types of construction may not be possible with someone living in the space. If there is a clause in the lease stating that the landlord can request a move out for repairs or renovations, they may be within their right.

As long as that portion of the lease is deemed legal in the eyes of the state or city, the landlord would be within their right to terminate the lease early.

Even if there isn’t a clause, the landlord may still require a tenant to move out for certain kinds of repairs. For example, a catastrophic event – like a flood or fire – may make the unit a health or safety hazard. Should that occur, the tenant can be required to move out so that repairs can move forward.

However, in that scenario, the landlord may also legally be required to assist the tenant in numerous ways. While the exact requirement can vary from one state to the next, the landlord may have to provide you with access to temporary housing, pay the difference between your new rent amount and your current one for a period, handle moving costs, cover new utility connection charges, and more.

Also, the landlord may be required by law to give you the opportunity to move back in once the repairs to handle the damage caused by the catastrophic event are done. Whether that is the case may depend on local legislation as well as the terms of your lease agreement.

When Landlords Can’t Legally Break a Lease Early

Generally speaking, if the conditions leading to the landlord’s move-out request aren’t covered in the agreement, the landlord can’t ask you to move out early. Your lease covers a specific term, giving you a legal right to occupy the dwelling for that period as long as you abide by the lease.

Typically, the only exception would be a catastrophic event that makes the unit unhealthy or unsafe and requires repairs that can’t be performed while the dwelling is occupied. However, as mentioned above, the landlord may be required by law to handle a variety of costs for you and may have to give you the opportunity to move back in afterward, should this rare situation occur.

It is important to note that a landlord can always ask you to move out early. At times, a landlord may offer an amount of money in exchange for them breaking the lease early, or they may hope that you’ll simply agree without compensation.

If that occurs, you get to make the choice regarding whether to move out before the period in the lease ends. Usually, if you agree, you’ll sign some paperwork showing that you and the landlord are choosing the alter the previous arrangement. That way, you’re both protected from being accused of breaking the lease earlier. If the landlord doesn’t produce such paperwork, the change isn’t formal, and that could be risky.

What Tenants Can Do When Landlords Try to Break a Lease Early

Typically, if a landlord’s request to break the lease early is covered in the agreement and is deemed legal by the state and city, tenants have little recourse. That means the landlord has to follow all legal requirements for terminating the arrangement, such as providing a proper notification or getting a court order for an eviction, depending on the exact nature of the situation.

However, if the landlord is illegally trying to force you to move, you do have options. Precisely what those are may vary, depending on the city and state. As a result, it’s wise to review local landlord-tenant laws.

Additionally, you may want to contact your local housing authority. Often, they can provide you with insights regarding your options and your legal rights as a tenant.

In most cases, at a minimum, you would have a legal right to stay in the dwelling until the end of the period in the lease. This is usually contingent on you continuing to abide by the terms, including paying rent on time and following other rules. It is important to note that you may have to defend your position in court.

There are situations where you may be within your right to sue your landlord over an early termination. Whether you choose to go that route is a personal decision.