If you're a landlord in Texas, you'll undoubtably experience tenants breaking a lease at least once. It's very common, but it's a serious matter.
A lease is a contract that binds you and your tenant for a certain period of time. Within that time, both parties are expected to adhere to all its terms, including the tenant staying for the entire lease term.
Sometimes, your tenants may choose to break the lease because they bought another home, got a new job, wish to move in with their partner, or desire to move closer to their family. No matter the reason, generally, a tenant who breaks a lease is liable for paying the entire rent remaining under the lease, regardless of whether they continue living in the premises. You may also be entitled to keeping their security deposit.
That being said, there are some legally justified reasons a tenant may break the lease. In such cases, all a tenant is required to do is notify you of their intention to break a lease, as well as provide the proof.
How to Break a Lease in Texas Without Penalty : Legally Justified Reasons
When a tenant breaks the lease for a legally justified reason, they can move out of their rented premises without any financial or legal penalty.
Here are some legally justified reasons:
1. Your tenant is a servicemember.
If your tenant is a servicemember and has received a deployment letter, he or she can break a lease unconditionally. Servicemembers are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
To break the lease, the tenant would need to do the following:
- Show proof that they signed the lease prior to entering active military duty.
- Show proof that they intend to stay on active duty for at least the next 90 days.
- Provide you with a written notice of their intention to move out, accompanied with a copy of the deployment letter.
With that done, the lease will terminate 30 days after the next rent payment is due.
2. The unit isn't habitable.
Every state, including Texas, has minimum health and safety standards for rental units. If, as a landlord, you fail to meet those standards, your tenant may move out without further obligation to the lease.
As a matter of fact, a court would probably rule that you "constructively evicted" your tenant.
That's why it's always important to respond to tenant maintenance requests with utmost urgency. This is especially true if the requests are for issues that can impact their safety or health such as mold problems, broken locks, unlit hallways, holes in the floor, and broken or damaged windows.
If a tenant notifies you of those conditions and you fail to respond within a reasonable time, they have a right to move out.
3. You have violated their right to privacy or have harassed them.
Harassing your tenant may be enough justification for them to leave. Some forms of harassment include:
- Entering the tenant's premises without permission. According to Texas landlord-tenant laws, tenants have a right to the quiet enjoyment of their rental premises. So, if you need to access their premises, you need to provide them adequate notice. While other states define the exact notice period, Texas does not. (Sec. 92.0081)
- Failing to make repairs in a timely and responsible manner.
- Refusing to accept or otherwise acknowledge proper payment of rent.
- Withholding amenities that were previously allowed, such as landscaping services or pool privileges.
4. Your tenant is a domestic violence victim.
Even before lease signing, the law requires landlords to disclose certain rights to their would-be tenants, such as their right to move out in special circumstances involving domestic violence, sexual abuse, and sexual assault.
In case of domestic violence, all a tenant must do is show proof of the restraining order prior to breaking the lease.
5. The lease has an early termination clause.
Some modern lease agreements may have some specific terms that would allow tenants to break their lease early. In exchange, tenants have to part away with a reasonable penalty fee. Usually, the fee is equivalent to two months' worth of rent.
Landlord's Duty to Find a Replacement Tenant in Texas
In the state of Texas, landlords have a duty to find a replacement tenant after their tenant moves out. You cannot just sit, wait and hope that a new tenant will arrive. By making reasonable efforts to find a replacement tenant, you'll help mitigate the damages.
If you are successful in your efforts, your tenant may end up only paying a fraction of the rent owed. For example, if your tenant moved out 6 months before the lease expired and you found a replacement within 2 months, then the tenant would only be responsible for paying rent for the 2 months the unit was vacant.
Besides the rent, you can also hold the tenant liable for meeting other costs such as the marketing and tenant screening costs.
Tenant's Right to Sublet in Texas
Unless the lease states otherwise, tenants are allowed to sublet the unit. So, if you do allow tenants to do so, make sure to put in place conditions that protect you and the property and be sure to screen the replacement tenant.
You also want to require the following information:
- Name and address of the proposed tenant.
- Reason for subletting or moving out.
- A copy of the proposed sublease.
- Written consent of the co-tenant.
Do you still need more help? If so, Limestone Country Properties is here. We are experienced property management company servicing the area of New Braunfels, Texas. Whether you're looking for help marketing your unit, screening prospective tenants, collecting rent, or even enforcing the lease terms, we can help!
Contact us today.