Ending a lease early is a matter that often arises when either the landlord and/or the tenant wishes to terminate the rental term before the designated date in the lease agreement. Several factors must be considered when such a matter arises.
Ending a Lease Early by Mutual Agreement
The easiest scenario for ending a lease early is when both the landlord and tenant want the lease to end. Just as with nearly every contract, parties are free to reach a mutual agreement for termination.
In such a case, the landlord and tenant should always put this in writing, and clearly state the date by which the tenancy is over. Landlords who are holding a tenant’s security deposit or a last month rent need to mindful that certain obligations arise when a tenancy is over, and ensure they comply with these applicable laws.
Ending a Lease Early by the Landlord and Tenant’s Conduct
It is a common misconception that only a written agreement can end a lease agreement. Rather, an agreement to reach a lease can occur “from the attendant circumstances and conduct of the parties.”
This means that, although no agreement was put in writing, the actions taken by the landlord and tenant can lead to a determination that the lease ended. For example, if the landlord accepts the apartment keys from the tenant, immediately assumes possession of the unit, and otherwise acts as if the lease had ended, there is a good argument to be made that it has . . . even without a written agreement.
This is important in a circumstance where a tenant wishes to end a lease, but the landlord does not. Here, the landlords needs to be extra careful about accepting the apartment keys or behaving in any way that could be considered as a finding that the lease ended.
One way a landlord can avoid this is by explicitly telling the tenant that he or she is not intending to end the lease.
When Only One Party Wants Out of the Lease
Under most leases, a landlord or tenant is not permitted to unilaterally end a lease. A few, limited exceptions exist, such as for tenants serving in the military or who are victims of domestic abuse. Otherwise, ending a lease early cannot be done alone by a landlord or tenant.
If a tenant does break a lease, a landlord (in the right circumstances) can pursue a claim for damages against the tenant. Before doing so, however, a landlord should consider speaking to an attorney.
If you need assistance with a landlord-tenant matter, contact me for a consultation.