If you're a landlord in Texas, you'll undoubtable experience renters breaking residential leases early at least once before the lease expires. It's very common, but it's a serious matter.
A lease is a contract that binds you, the landlord, and your renter in relation to your rental property for a certain period of time. Within that time, both parties are expected to adhere to all its terms, including the renter staying for the entire lease term.
Sometimes, your renters may choose to break their lease agreement 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 early is responsible for paying the entire rent for the rental unit remaining under the lease and giving the landlord written notice, regardless of whether they continue living in the premises. In most cases, they are hold liability to pay the landlord the rent for the remainder of the contract. You may also be entitled to keeping their security deposit.
That being said, there are some legally justified reasons a renter may terminate the lease agreement before the lease expires. In such cases, all a tenant is required to do is notify you of their intention to end a lease early, as well as provide the proof.
How to Legally Terminate a Lease in Texas Without Penalty: Legally Justified Reasons
When a tenant breaks the lease early 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 to terminate the rental agreement:
1. Your Tenant is a Servicemember
Under Texas law, if your renter is a servicemember and has received a deployment letter for active military duty, he or she can break a lease unconditionally. Servicemembers are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.
To break the lease early, the tenant would need to do the following:
- Show proof that they signed the lease prior to entering active military service
- 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 a landlord fails to meet those standards, your tenant may move out without further obligation to the agreement.
As a matter of fact, a court would probably rule that you "constructively evicted" your tenant. Having constructively evicted your tenant is illegal.
That's why it's always important to respond to a tenant maintenance request 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.
Under the Texas law, if a tenant notifies you of those conditions and you fail to respond within a reasonable time, they have a right to move out. If a landlord violates a tenant's right to break the lease early, it could go to small claims court to help mitigate damages. As a landlord, you want to avoid any liability in court and negative relationships with your tenant.
3. You Have Violated Their Right to Privacy or Have Harassed Them
Harassing your tenant may be enough justification for them to leave. Under the law, some forms of harassment include:
- Entering the tenant's premises without permission. According to Texas landlord-tenant law, renters 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 and answer a repair request 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
If a landlord repeatedly violates a tenant's privacy, they can legally terminate the lease without any liability. This is one of the way's tenants can pursue early lease termination.
4. Your Tenant is a Domestic Violence Victim
Even before you sign a lease, 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.
All a tenant must do is show proof of the restraining order prior to breaking any residential leases before the agreement ends. This exempts them from paying the total remaining rent or having to provide written notice.
5. The Lease Has an Early Termination Section
Some modern lease agreements may have some specific terms that would allow renters to break their lease early like an early termination clause. In exchange, renters have to part away with a reasonable penalty fee. Usually, the fee is equivalent to two months' worth of rent. This needs to be included in the lease both the landlord and tenant sign. The lease may also be on a short team basis, which mean the landlord or tenant may break it at any point.
Landlord's Duty to Find a New Tenant in Texas
Under Texas law, landlords have a duty to find a new tenant after their tenant moves out. You cannot just sit, wait and hope that a tenant will arrive. By making reasonable efforts to find a new 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
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 rental unit 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
Bottom Line: Breaking a Lease Early in Texas - Know the Law
As a Texas landlord, you'll undoubtably experience tenants breaking a lease early. It's very common, but it's a serious matter.
We hope this article was informative!
Do you still need more help? If so, Limestone Country Properties is here. We are experienced management company servicing the area of New Braunfels, Texas.
Whether you're looking for help marketing your unit, screening prospective tenants, collecting rent, enforcing the lease terms, or even understanding legal matters, such as the landlord-tenant law, the security deposit law, or the eviction law, we can help!
Contact us today.
Disclaimer: This blog about how to break your lease is only meant for information purposes, and not for legal advice. If you need more help, or further clarification about the laws, please consider hiring a legal attorney.