What To Do When Tenants Want To Break Their Lease

When tenants want out of a lease, the landlord is put in a very tough spot. There’s no way to get around it: You are either going to be the good guy or the bad guy. The tenant knows that you can let them off the hook without penalties, especially in sympathetic circumstances. But you know that your finances can take a considerable hit.

Before you do anything, check with a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction. Landlord-tenant laws change all the time at federal, state, and local levels. Know your rights, because deciding what to do when tenants want to break their lease can be complicated. Even if the tenant wants a black-or-white answer, you can try for a grayish compromise without being a villain.

If the lease has an early termination clause, try to stick to it. You and the tenant both signed an agreement for exactly this situation. There are circumstances that get priority, though, such as military duty or domestic abuse. If your tenants want to move because you’ve been a horrible landlord, you’ll definitely need that lawyer. The good news is that there are far more reasons that are not sufficient to legally break a lease:

  • Job transfer
  • Noisy neighbors
  • Buying a house
  • Cohabiting with a significant other
  • Wanting to be closer to family
  • Lack of parking
  • “Just gotta be movin’ on, man”

The lease spells it out: The tenant may be required to pay the rent for the remaining months, but in that case, you are legally required to mitigate damages by actively looking for a new renter. Ideally, the departing tenant will hustle to find an immediate renter who meets your standards. Otherwise, the lease will require tenants to forfeit their security deposit or pay a penalty. Don’t agree to informally sub-letting the unit. You should decide who lives in your property, not just watch your tenant’s co-worker’s ex-son-in-law move in.

Should you just give your tenant a break, and forgive any fees? Shakespeare would advise, “To thine own self be true,” which translates to “Leave me out of it.” The lease doesn’t mention compassion, and if the move is due to something like illness or a sudden divorce, the decision may be easy. But your financial situation deserves consideration, too; your family depends on your income.

Only you know all the factors involved, including your history with the tenant, and your reputation as a landlord—and your need to sleep at night. Be mindful that you are setting a precedent; breaking a lease for one tenant and not another could violate discrimination laws.

At R. Russell Properties, we’ve seen it all, with four decades of experience looking after 7,000 properties. If you’re looking for rental home management in Altamonte Springs or the Orlando area, we can advise you on what to do when tenants break their lease, or when any other issues arise. Even better, we can take care of it for you. Contact us for more information on how our property management company can help.