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When you enter into a lease the intention is never to break it. However, it happens regularly, sometimes because life gets in the way and other times because renters are unaware of all the rules. But the fact remains that a lease is a binding agreement that specifies the renter’s responsibilities – mostly paying X amount of rent for X amount of months.
Given that many landlords depend on rent as their sole source of income, it’s understandable that they take lease terms seriously. No matter what the reason, there are Texas laws that protect your landlord if you break your lease.
There are many ways that a lease can get broken. The standard Texas Association of Realtors lease is 14 pages after all. But some terms are broken more regularly than others, often because renters don’t even realize they are doing something wrong.
Here’s a quick look at some of the terms that get broken the most:
- Moving out of an apartment or rental home before the term is up.
- Not giving notice of your move out far enough in advance.
- Not getting the adequate amount of required renter’s insurance.
- Not getting approval before installing equipment – locks, security systems, etc.
- Letting visitors stay at the rental for long periods of time. (Most leases will specify how long a guest can stay at your house.)
It doesn’t matter if you move into a downtown Houston apartment or an estate in Dripping Springs. Breaking a lease is the same no matter where you live in Texas.
Laws and Regulations Related to Breaking a Lease in Texas
In Texas it’s easy to break a lease, but suffering real financial burden is pretty difficult. That is thanks to a few rules that work in the tenant’s favor. However, there are also laws protecting the landlord that you need to know about if you think you’ve broken your lease or need to move out early.
Reletting – Reletting refers to your landlord having to re-rent your place. Legally a landlord can charge reletting fees to offset any costs associated with advertising and getting the place ready for lease.
Texas Property Code Ann. § 91.006 – This regulation works in your favor. Basically it’s the part of the Texas property code that states that the landlord must do their due diligence to rent out the home to someone else to “mitigate damages”. They have to find another renter as quickly as possible to minimize the cost for you if you have to move out early. However, they don’t have to accept something less than fair market value in an effort to get someone in ASAP.
War and National Defense Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, 50 App. U.S.C.A. §§ 501 – This is a federal law that states people who are serving in the military or another federal uniformed service can end their lease early without repercussion if they are called to serve or get stationed in another location.
Transfer Clause – If there is a transfer clause worked into the lease you will be able to end the lease early without breaching it if you have to move because of a work transfer. You may still have to pay reletting fees, but you won’t be on the hook for the remainder of the rent.
Non-payment Eviction – If you fail to pay your rent or break your lease in another major way the landlord can have you evicted within two weeks of breaching the contract. Prior to the eviction the landlord must serve the tenant with a notice to vacate at least 72 hours in advance. If a tenant doesn’t vacate on their own the landlord will then need to get an eviction judgment from a justice of the peace to enforce the move out.
Repair Regulations – In Texas there are regulations that tenants have to follow when asking for repairs to keep the home safe and secure. You have to put the request in writing and give the landlord enough time to attempt to address the issue. If you follow the regulations and the landlord doesn’t make the necessary repairs then you can end the lease without liability.
Liability for Expenses Incurred – Tenants could lose more than their deposit if they breach their lease. Texas regulations state that tenants are liable for any expenses that the landlord incurs because a lease was broken.
Safety Concerns Work Both Ways – Under Texas law landlords must ensure that their property meets safety and health standards. However, even if they meet these requirements but the landlord lies about the safety of the neighborhood the tenant may be able to legally end the lease early if they relied on this information when deciding to rent the property.
Something to keep in mind is that many laws can be overridden by terms in the lease. If both parties agree to a term in writing that often takes precedence. It’s extremely important to make sure you always read the lease carefully before signing to ensure you’re protected.
what happen if you break a lease
If you have to move out before your fixed-term tenancy ends (often referred to as “breaking a lease”), you have a few options to consider:
- Mutual Agreement – Your landlord may simply agree to end your tenancy early. To help convince your landlord, do what you can to help them find a new tenant. For example, offer to advertise your unit and cooperate when it is being shown to potential replacements. If your landlord is willing to end your tenancy early, be sure to fill out a Mutual Agreement to End Tenancy form.
- Assignment and Sublet – Assigning your tenancy means finding another tenant to permanently take over your agreement. Subletting your tenancy means finding another tenant to temporarily take over your agreement. In order to assign or sublet your tenancy, you must have your landlord's written consent. However, if your fixed-term tenancy has at least six months on it, your landlord cannot unreasonably withhold their consent.
- Landlord Breach of a Material Term – A “material term” is something that is so important that even the simplest breach or violation of that term may give the other party the right to end the tenancy. If your landlord has breached a material term, you should contact them in writing immediately. If your landlord cannot or will not correct the situation, write a second letter notifying them that you are ending your tenancy early for breach of a material term. See TRAC’s template letter, Written Notice for Failure to Comply with a Material Term. Be aware that your landlord may go after you for compensation if they don’t think a material term has been broken. If you are unsure whether you have an acceptable reason to end your tenancy early, you can apply for dispute resolution requesting permission to do so. It may take some time before you get a hearing, but it is a safer option.
- Family Violence and Long-Term Care – If you are experiencing family violence or need to move into a long-term care facility, you are allowed to end your fixed-term tenancy early by providing one month notice in writing along with written verification from an eligible third-party verifier. For more information, see TRAC’s webpage on Breaking a Lease.
You have a legal responsibility to follow the terms of your fixed-term tenancy agreement. If you break your lease, you may have to pay your landlord some money, but it’s not as simple as automatically owing all of the remaining months of rent. This is because of an important legal principle called "mitigation”.
Once your landlord knows that you are breaking your lease, they have a legal responsibility to mitigate, or minimize, your loss by trying to find a new tenant to rent your unit at a fair price. If your landlord immediately finds a replacement tenant and doesn’t lose any rental income, you may not owe them anything at all. In other words, your landlord can generally only go after you for money they have actually lost.