Landlord/Tenant Law

What Are a Tenant's Rights To Abandon a Lease?

Key Takeaways:

  • The law provides tenants with the legal right to occupy the rented space for the intended purpose without undue interference from the landlord.
  • This is known as the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the property. 
  • If a landlord violates the terms of the lease, a tenant could be able to end a lease early and potentially collect damages.

Things happen. Maybe that new rental property isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Maybe a new job or relationship requires relocation. Maybe your business is expanding, and you need more retail or production space out of your rental unit. Or maybe your tolerance for noisy neighbors just isn’t what it used to be.

Whatever the reason, you might be wondering if, as a renter, you can somehow get out of your lease early. In landlord-tenant law, abandonment of a lease or lease agreement is when a tenant moves out before their lease is up. But if you don’t move out properly, the landlord can get damages for unpaid rent. You could also lose part of your security deposit and have to pay for repairs. However, there are laws and legal principles that can protect a tenant’s right to abandon a lease. For instance, in some states, the landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-rent the property to a new tenant.

If you have questions about abandoning a lease legally, you should contact a landlord-tenant attorney in your area.

The Right of Quiet Enjoyment

A tenant leases a rental property or commercial space with the intention of using that space for a certain purpose and for a period of time. For example, people often rent apartments as places to live. They rent commercial space for their office or store. The rental agreement will usually specify the purpose of the rental.

The law provides tenants with the legal right to occupy the rented space for the intended purpose without undue interference from the landlord. This is known as the tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment of the property. The rental agreement will include the amount of rent due. It may also state things such as whether you can sublet, whether you can have a pet, the proper notice requirements, and other rental terms.

State law defines quiet enjoyment. This definition varies significantly from state to state and from situation to situation. But it usually has little to do with noise or enjoyment. Generally, a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, in exchange for their rent payment, allows a tenant to use and enjoy the premises without substantial disturbances or interference. The rights of quiet enjoyment include:

  • The right to exclude others from the premises; for example, the landlord can’t rent the space to two competing tenants simultaneously
  • The right to peace and quiet on the premises
  • The right to clean working and living spaces
  • The right to basic services like hot water, heat, or elevators in a high-rise building

If a property owner interferes with any of these rights to the point where the premises are unsafe or otherwise uninhabitable, it could result in what’s known as a “constructive eviction” before the lease ends. An example is ignoring problems in the heating system during the winter months.

More About Moving Out and Constructive Eviction

If a landlord denies you the right of quiet enjoyment to the extent of constructive eviction, you may have a legally valid reason to move out of the leased premises before the lease ends. However, it is usually beneficial and, in some places, legally required to give the landlord written notice of the specific problems. The landlord is allowed a reasonable amount of time to fix the situation or make the necessary repairs if the issue involves property damage.

In some states, the tenant has the right to move out if the landlord fails to take the necessary action. If the landlord sues you for breaking the lease, a court may find that you were a victim of constructive eviction. The court could then require the landlord to pay your moving expenses and attorney’s fees. However, if the court finds that the property owner was not at fault for interfering with a tenant’s right to quiet enjoyment, the tenant may owe the landlord rent from the time of the move until the end of the lease period.

Remember, when state courts consider constructive eviction in eviction proceedings, the final decision is not based so much on the noise level or whether you were having a good time on the leased property. Instead, the court is considering whether the premises were habitable and appropriate for the purposes of the lease.

Breaching the Lease

Even if the landlord did not breach the covenant of quiet enjoyment, it is still possible to breach the lease in other ways. In those cases, you could collect damages or leave before the lease ends. Therefore, it is important to be familiar with your lease terms and to communicate with your landlord and a local attorney if you’re having problems with your leased property.

There may also be other legal protections that could apply to your case. One example is laws that allow military personnel to break a lease early if they are deployed. When you’re dealing with a lease issue, it’s a good idea to contact a landlord-tenant attorney in your area for legal advice.

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