Did you sign a lease for your apartment, condo, or house? While you may have the best of intentions for staying put for the full term, there are times when you may need or want to move before the lease expires. For example, a sudden job transfer, a change in marital status, or a family emergency could force you to change your living arrangements. Of, if you have a disagreement with hostile neighbors or become the victim of neighborhood crime, you may just want to leave the whole situation behind. Before you call the movers, here’s what you need to know about breaking a lease in Texas.
What Happens When You Break the Lease
A lease is a legally enforceable contract between a tenant and a property owner. The parties agree to certain conditions that apply for a specified time. Most commonly this means that you, as the tenant, pay rent at an agreed rate each month for the privilege of occupying the property. Your landlord agrees to maintain the property as suitable housing for you to enjoy.
In Texas, most residential leases last 12 months. If you decide to terminate early without just cause, you must still hold up your end for the remaining term. For example, move six months before the lease ends, and your landlord could collect the remaining six months you owe even though you no longer occupy the location.
However, the contract doesn’t necessarily mean you’re always stuck paying the rent. Texas law also requires landlords to make every effort to fill the vacancy as soon as possible. Once the unit becomes occupied again, previous tenants do not pay any remaining balance. Landlords must make every effort to fill the vacancy, but they are not required to rent to the first applicant. If it is difficult to find a qualified tenant, you could end up stuck with the bill.
How to Get Out of a Lease in Texas Legally
In addition to waiting for the scheduled expiration, there are four instances when you may legally break the agreement early without consequences:
- Illegal Harassment from the Landlord – For example, if the owner shuts off utilities or changes the locks.
- Unsafe Living Conditions – An unresolved problem with the building poses a health hazard.
- Victim of Domestic Abuse – Show evidence of a court-mandated restraining order to immediately break a lease.
- Active Military Service – Your lease ends 30 days after you notify your landlord in writing of your military assignment.
You might also break a lease if the landlord violates the terms of the agreement. This strategy is risky and may have other consequences. You must argue your case in court which costs time and money. Even if you win, other potential landlords may be reluctant to rent to you in the future.
The easiest way to end a lease is to let the contract expire at the agreed upon time. Most lease agreements have provisions for what happens when a lease expires. Sometimes the agreement renews automatically, but the parties typically take the opportunity to renegotiate the arrangement. At the end of a lease, you can move out, renegotiate the lease terms, or fall back on a month-to-month rental plan. Your landlord may also decide not to renew the lease or notify you of an increase in the rent as a condition resigning the lease.
Typical Apartment Lease Breaking Fees and Penalties
If you break your lease, you may be expected to pay the following:
- Future rents through the end of the least term
- Any back rent you may owe
- Marketing expenses to find a new tenant
- Cost of qualifying new tenants
Breaking a lease may get expensive, but the State of Texas does not allow landlords to impose a specific penalty. Your only liability is the landlord’s expenses. If the landlord rents the unit again, you may not have to pay much at all in rent, but you are still required to pay all unexpected costs associated with the transition. Texas law allows landlords to charge tenants for costs related to filling a vacancy left when a tenant terminates a lease without just cause. These expenses cover marketing and qualifying new tenants. Total fees vary depending on the situation, and most lease contracts have clauses designed to clarify such details.
As a rule, the Texas Apartment Association typically recommends landlords charge 85% of a month’s rent to cover early lease termination expenses. In extreme circumstances, a landlord may sue a former delinquent tenant for past rent. Most of these cases are heard in small claims court with the maximum claim of $10,000.
Most experts agree that proactively resolving a situation with your landlord is ideal when possible. If you want or need to break your lease early, first contact your landlord and discuss the situation. Recruit their help to keep your costs to a minimum. Landlords are often eager to avoid problems and may encourage you to help recruit a new tenant. In ideal circumstances, you can gracefully exit the lease without incurring unnecessary costs at all. If you need help understanding a lease contract, meet with a qualified attorney. Seek professional guidance before attempting to settle a suit or make an appearance in court.