It is typically very difficult to break a lease after signing a contract. However, the law permits a tenant to break a lease under certain conditions. One of these conditions is when the individual’s circumstances have changed and he now requires a handicapped accessible apartment. If the previously contracted apartment is not designed for handicapped individuals, a tenant can typically break the lease with no repercussions.
An individual that suddenly becomes disabled and requires a handicapped accessible apartment can break his lease prior to the lease coming into effect or during the lease. In either situation, the lease can be terminated because a non-handicapped accessible apartment may pose a danger to the tenant’s health and safety. All that would be required to break a lease due to a sudden disability is a letter stating that the tenant has become permanently or severely disabled and is therefore unable to reside in the apartment. Notification must be given to the landlord anywhere from two weeks to one month prior to the tenant vacating the residence. The specific notification requirements are set independently by each state.
Permanent vs. Temporary
Typically, however, an individual must be permanently disabled to break their lease. An expectation of recovering within a few weeks does not provide the basis to break a lease. At the very least, the individual must expect to be disabled for at least six months to validly break their lease. A simple broken bone, therefore, is insufficient; rather, the individual must have severe disabilities that prevent him from living in the apartment for the long-term.
Transferring vs. Breaking the Lease
Many states allow a tenant to transfer their broken lease to a handicapped apartment in the same building, if one is available. In this case, the individual would not be breaking his lease. However, most states permit an individual who is severely disabled and who is planning on living with a family member or in a facility for treatment to break their lease. A lease may also be broken and not transferred when the complex has no available handicapped accessible apartments.
Potential Ramifications of Breaking the Lease
Most states prohibit a landlord from charging penalties or retaining a security deposit when a lease is broken due to the tenant’s disability. A security deposit can be retained only if there is damage to the apartment caused by the tenant prior to their disability. As always, any funds not used to repair the residence must be returned to the tenant, despite his having broken the lease.
Furthermore, a landlord who refuses to allow a tenant to break their lease due to a sudden disability may be subject to potential fines. If the landlord institutes eviction procedures or requires the tenant to continue to pay for their lease despite their inability to use the apartment, it is likely that the state’s housing authority would investigate the landlord and assess fines against him for his behavior. A tenant must notify the housing authority of the landlord’s actions for them to become involved in the situation.