When your tenant breaks a lease, you are often placed in a precarious situation.
Most tenants who sign a lease intend to stay for the full amount of time required, such as one year, but sometimes life happens and leases need to be broken early.
Though there certainly are reasons why a tenant may want to break a lease agreement, as with any written contract, breaching the terms stated within the lease does not come without its consequences.
By understanding the valid reasons a tenant is allowed to break a lease agreement under Maryland law, and knowing what to expect should the unexpected happen, you may be able to ward off additional problems when it comes to managing your rental property.
When your tenant signs a lease for you rental property, both you and the tenant have entered into a legally binding agreement.
The provisions within this written contract commit the tenant to living in your rental home for a specific period of time thus obligating the tenant to pay monthly rental fees until the end of the lease.
Under a typical lease agreement you cannot raise the rent or change other terms of the contract until the lease runs out, unless provisions allowing for such changes are agreed to by the tenant at the signing of the lease. Additionally, you cannot force a tenant to move out before the lease ends, unless the tenant fails to pay the rent or violates other specific terms in the lease agreement.
On the other hand, it is the tenant’s responsibility to make the monthly rent payments on time. Should a tenant leave your rental home before the end of the specified lease agreement date, without paying the remainder of the rent that is due, this is considered breaking the lease.
As a landlord it is your responsibility to make sure the original lease agreement addresses situations such as breaking the lease.
First, it is important to outline clearly within the written contract what will happen should the tenant decide to break the lease. You will also need to state what actions will be taken if the lease is broken.
You also may wish to include a statement that the lease agreement is legally binding and that there are certain legal ramifications that may ensue should the tenant break the lease early.
Valid Reasons to Break a Lease
In Baltimore, there are certain situations that allow a tenant to break the lease agreement they entered with you that you should be aware of and understand. Let’s take a look at the ways in which a tenant may legally move out before the lease term ends:
1. The Tenant is Starting Active Military Duty
Under federal law, if your tenant is called to active military duty after signing a lease agreement to rent your property, they are allowed to legally back out of that binding contract with zero repercussions.
- The tenant must be part of the “uniformed services” – armed forces, commissioned forces of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), commissioned corps of the Public Health Service, and the activated National Guard.
- The tenant must provide you written notice of intent to terminate the lease agreement.
- After written notice is received, the tenancy will end 30 days after the date that the next rent payment is due.
2. The Tenant is a Victim of Domestic Violence or Sexual Assault
Maryland State Law states that should a tenant under a written lease agreement become the victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, the lease agreement may be legally terminated regardless of how much time is left in the term.
- Written notice must be given to the landlord should the tenant wish to leave.
- The tenant will be given 30 days to vacate the rental property upon receiving proper written notice.
3. The Rental Unit is Unsafe or Violates Maryland Health or Safety Codes
Should you not provide your tenant habitable housing conditions under both state and local housing codes, the tenant may be granted constructive eviction by the Maryland court system.
- The tenant, if granted constructive eviction, will no longer be responsible for any monthly rent payments.
- The tenant must follow the proper procedures for leaving the inhabitable rental property in order to be relieved of any contractual duties.
- Only in serious cases will the tenant be provided this option from the courts.
4. The Tenant is Harassed by You or Their Privacy Rights Are Violated
Although Maryland does not set out specific laws regulating the notice you must give your tenant regarding entering your rental property, if you repeatedly violate you tenant’s rights to privacy, or conduct behavior that is harassing in nature, that may be grounds for early lease termination with no further rental payment obligations.
5. Other Exceptions That May Be Entertained
- Most leases in Maryland are strictly enforced, though you may wish to negotiate a clause within the contract that allows your tenant the choice to terminate the lease at any time with a 60-day notice.
- You may also give your tenant the option to break the lease due to a job relocation.
- While offering these early termination options, you may want to include a provision that requires paying a penalty fee should the lease indeed be terminated.
Though most of the burden falls upon the tenant because they are renting your property and have agreed to certain binding terms, there are some responsibilities that fall upon landlords that are important to understand.
To avoid any unnecessary conflict or wrongdoing, check out what responsibilities landlords have towards their tenants.
1. It is your duty to provide a habitable rental home according to state and local housing codes.
2. By renting your home to a tenant it is your duty to follow the covenant of enjoyment, by which you provide your tenant a quiet and safe place for them to live.
Should an issue arise, you are entitled to a reasonable amount of time to remedy the situation before the tenant can take action and/or legally break the lease.
3. It is your responsibility to find a new tenant to occupy your rental home should a lease be terminated early.
- According to Maryland law the landlord must make reasonable efforts to re-lease their rental property should a tenant break the lease agreement and leave regardless of the reason. This is called mitigating damages.
- The tenant will only be financially responsible for rent payments up until the new found tenant leases your home in their place.
- You must try to re-rent your home quickly and efficiently.
- You are not responsible for placing this rental property ahead of others you may be trying to lease.
- You do not have to accept a subpar tenant in order to re-lease you property (such as someone with insufficient income or poor credit).
- You do not have to rent the property below fair market value just to fill the vacancy.
- You may charge the tenant breaking the lease (or use a portion of their security deposit) for any costs related to re-renting your property.
In the end, having your tenant leave your rental property prematurely is a tough thing to handle. There is a lot of responsibility that goes along with managing your rental property and early lease terminations can be quite a headache.
Consider having your Baltimore County property management company help manage your rental properties.
With full leasing services and experts on hand to work with you to address issues such as lease terminations, Bay Management Group will help you every step of the way. Knowledgeable in all Maryland laws regarding renting, contractual leases, and the processes that follow a tenant breaking their lease, you can rest assured your rental property and money will be in good hands.