It’s something no one wants to have to deal with: a situation has come up that necessitates you breaking your lease agreement.
Even if you’re being forced to move because of safety concerns, pushback from your landlord is still likely here, as breaking your lease is essentially reneging on a signed agreement. In some cases, it can even carry legal repercussions. Still, you may have some tenant rights at your disposal to help you cleanly cut ties and move on for good.
Valid Safety Concerns
Let’s say that the unit you rented has some serious problems — mold, for example, or a leaking ceiling that hasn’t been repaired by management. Tenants who report such issues are usually allowed to break their leases due to their landlord’s failure to abide by safety regulations and/or to maintain a habitable living environment. Documentation is key here, so remember to photograph the areas of the apartment that are not up to code, or that in any way present a hazard to your health.
Dealing With Your Landlord
Getting in touch with the landlord would be the natural next step to getting these issues resolved, but assuming you already tried that without any action being taken, you’ll want to start recording your conversations with them in whatever ways you’re able to help build your case. This includes saving any email correspondences, texts, or voicemails between the two of you. In short, you should catalog everything you feel is pertinent to your situation.
In most places, safety or building code complaints can be grounds for an investigation by the local health department — something any property owner would probably want to avoid. If your landlord isn’t budging, you can make one final attempt to get the problem dealt with by sending them a formal notice by mail (print out a second copy to keep for your own records). State in the letter what particular problems you’ve observed that pose a threat to your safety and well-being, and that you intend to break the lease if these matters are not promptly corrected. Remember to enclose a return receipt in the envelope, too, so they can confirm that they got the letter.
After that, the landlord has a specified window of time (it varies state by state) in which to resolve the safety violations to the satisfaction of all parties. However, if they refuse to correct the issue even after you’ve given formal notice, you’ll have to go ahead and file a complaint with the health department. Once you’ve reached out to them, an investigation will be made into the property. A worker will come to inspect your apartment and take note of any health or safety violations that may exist.
They’ll then put together a report that will be submitted to the landlord, once again giving them a certain amount of time in which to fix the issue. The landlord must take action at this point or risk paying a fine, and the inspector will have to come back again to verify that the landlord has complied with the department’s regulations. If all goes well, you may not need to terminate your lease after all. Still, you’re sure to benefit from understanding the laws that protect you in case the problem isn’t fixed and you do need to pack up and leave. No one should be made to stay in an apartment that is, for whatever reason, uninhabitable.
Going to the Local Housing Department
Gather up all of the documentation in your possession regarding the safety violations in your unit and actions you took to remedy them, and put all of it in a binder. The written notice to the landlord and an official copy of the health department’s findings are going to be especially helpful here. Contact your jurisdiction’s housing department, outlining the problems you’ve faced in your living environment and the failure of the landlord to undertake the necessary repairs. You should also mention your intention to move out, and that upon doing so, you are not to be held responsible for compensating him or her for however many months’ rent payments remain on the lease. Therefore, you will not be legally obligated to pay anything upon vacating the property.
Tying up these loose ends, which entails compiling your own personal file with all of the evidence in your favor, will give you a definite advantage in taking things into your own hands and doing what you can to lawfully exit your lease agreement. Following these steps, providing ample notice to the aforementioned parties, and being crystal clear in your intentions will keep you immune from any legal action your landlord may try to take.