When Can a Tenant Legally Break a Rental Lease?

Tenants are typically bound by the terms of their rental lease agreement for the duration of the lease term. However, there are certain situations in which a tenant may be legally permitted to break the lease without incurring penalties or facing legal consequences.

In this blog post, we will explore the common reasons why tenants may need to break a lease and the circumstances under which it is legally permissible to do so.


Early Termination Clause

An early termination clause is a provision in a rental lease agreement that allows a tenant to end the lease before its designated end date. This clause usually sets out the conditions under which the tenant can terminate the lease early, as well as any fees or penalties that may be incurred.

To legally break a lease using an early termination clause, a tenant must typically fulfill certain conditions. For example, the clause may require the tenant to provide a specific amount of notice to the landlord or property manager, such as 30 or 60 days. The tenant may also be required to pay a fee, such as two months’ rent or a set amount agreed upon in the lease agreement.

In addition to fulfilling these requirements, the tenant must ensure that they are not in breach of any other terms or conditions of the lease agreement. For instance, the tenant may be required to leave the property in good condition, pay any outstanding rent or fees owed, and remove all personal belongings.

The early termination fees and notice periods can vary depending on the specific terms of the lease agreement. For example, some leases may require a higher fee or longer notice period than others. In general, however, early termination fees can range from a few hundred dollars to several months’ rent, and notice periods can range from 30 to 90 days or more.


Constructive Eviction

Constructive eviction is a legal term that refers to a situation in which a tenant is forced to vacate a rental property because the landlord has failed to provide a habitable living environment or has otherwise breached the terms of the lease agreement.

In rental lease agreements, constructive eviction applies when the landlord has failed to meet their obligations to provide a safe and livable space for the tenant. This may include failing to address health and safety hazards such as mold, pest infestations, or water damage, or failing to provide basic amenities such as running water, heat, or electricity.

Other situations that may constitute constructive eviction include the landlord harassing or interfering with the tenant’s quiet enjoyment of the property, or violating the tenant’s privacy rights. For example, if the landlord repeatedly enters the tenant’s rental unit without permission, this may be grounds for constructive eviction.

To legally break a lease due to constructive eviction, the tenant must typically follow certain steps. This may include notifying the landlord in writing of the issue and providing them with a reasonable opportunity to remedy the situation. If the landlord fails to do so, the tenant may be able to terminate the lease without penalty.

It’s crucial that tenants establish constructive eviction. To prove the issue’s severity, you may need photos, witness accounts, or inspection reports. Tenants may need legal help to properly terminate their lease due to constructive eviction.


Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious issue that can have a significant impact on a victim’s life, including their ability to maintain their housing. Fortunately, in many jurisdictions, domestic violence is considered a valid reason for a tenant to break a lease.

Laws that protect victims of domestic violence who need to terminate their lease early are often referred to as “domestic violence housing laws.” These laws recognize that domestic violence can make it unsafe or untenable for a victim to continue living in their current rental unit. As a result, these laws provide legal protections for victims who need to terminate their lease early in order to escape an abusive situation.

Domestic abuse may demand notice and paperwork to breach a lease. These criteria vary by jurisdiction and law. Nonetheless, tenants must notify their landlord of their decision to cancel the lease early and provide proof of domestic violence.

Documentation requirements may include a police report, a restraining order, or a letter from a medical or mental health professional. The purpose of these requirements is to ensure that tenants are not abusing the system or falsely claiming to be victims of domestic violence in order to terminate their leases early.

Domestic violence housing regulations are complicated and vary by jurisdiction. Domestic violence-related lease breaks should be advised by a lawyer. So, people can safeguard their legal rights and well-being.


Active Military Duty

The Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) is a federal law that provides legal protections for active-duty military personnel. Under the SCRA, military members have certain rights when it comes to their rental leases, including the ability to terminate a lease early if they are deployed or receive permanent change of station orders.

Military personnel may end their lease early without penalty if they are deployed or permanently relocated. They must give their landlord written notice and a copy of their orders to terminate the lease. The notice should specify a lease termination date at least 30 days following the next rent payment.

Under the SCRA, landlords are prohibited from imposing penalties or fees on military members who terminate their lease early due to a deployment or permanent change of station orders. Additionally, landlords cannot require military members to provide more than 30 days notice of their intent to terminate their lease.

Military members must meet SCRA documentation requirements to break a lease. They must give their landlord a copy of their military orders and a formal notification of their lease termination. The notice should specify a lease termination date at least 30 days following the next rent payment.

If a military member terminates their lease early under the SCRA, they may still be responsible for paying rent for the period leading up to the effective date of the lease termination. However, they cannot be charged any penalties or fees beyond that amount.


Illegal Lease Terms

An illegal lease term is a provision in a rental lease agreement that violates state or federal law. Illegal lease terms can give a tenant the right to break a lease without penalty, as tenants cannot be legally bound by agreements that are against the law.

Illegal lease terms include discriminatory clauses that violate fair housing laws, provisions that waive a tenant’s legal rights, and clauses that oblige renters to forgo their rights to sue or take legal action against their landlord. Leases that oblige tenants to live in unsafe or unclean circumstances violate municipal building and health standards.

If a tenant believes that their lease agreement contains an illegal lease term, they should consult with an attorney or their local tenant’s rights organization. They may also be able to file a complaint with their state or local housing authority.

In order to legally break a lease due to an illegal lease term, a tenant must typically provide written notice to their landlord, citing the specific provision in the lease agreement that they believe is illegal. They may also be required to provide proof or documentation to support their claim.

Breaking a lease owing to an illegal lease term can be tricky, so tenants should consult a lawyer before taking any action. Landlords may contest tenants’ claims that a lease term is illegal, requiring legal action.



In summary, tenants may have various reasons for needing to break a rental lease, such as an early termination clause, constructive eviction, domestic violence, active military duty, or illegal lease terms. It is important for tenants to understand their legal rights and the steps they must take to legally break a lease in each of these situations.

Tenants must carefully check their lease agreement for an early termination clause and its requirements. Tenants may need to notify their landlord and seek legal assistance to break their lease in circumstances of constructive eviction. State and federal laws allow domestic violence victims to quit a lease early, and active duty military personnel have Servicemembers Civil Relief Act rights. Unlawful lease provisions allow renters to break a lease without penalty, but the process is lengthy and may require legal assistance.

Table of Contents