While a rental lease binds you to a property for a period of time, it is not unbreakable. One situation in which you might be able to break your lease is when the landlord makes changes to the property that alters your ability to live in the space.
What Constitutes a Substantial Change?
A tenant is usually permitted to break or change a lease when alterations to the leased premises have been substantial. What is considered substantial varies in each state, but overall it is considered to be any change where the tenant is no longer to inhabit or use the premises as originally intended and agreed upon by all involved parties. An example of this is when a tenant rents a three bedroom apartment or home and one bedroom is flooded or otherwise declared uninhabitable. Removing the tenant’s ability to use that space constitutes a substantial change in the premises.
The exact definition of a “substantial change” depends on your state’s rental laws and the lease agreement. Check both of these documents to see if the changes to your rented residence are considered a substantial change and, if so, your rights and remedies in such a situation.
What a Tenant can Do
If a substantial change affects the leased premises, many states permit the tenant two choices: break the lease with no repercussions or sign a new lease with new terms applicable to the altered premises. Note that a landlord may also have these options, despite his having caused the alterations to the property.
Breaking a Lease
Breaking a lease because of a substantial change usually requires a tenant to notify the landlord of the alteration and that because of the alteration he intends to end the lease. It is the lease agreement, however, that regulates the proper procedure for breaking the lease. Some leases may require the tenant to provide the landlord thirty days to remedy the situation. In this situation, the tenant is usually granted a reduction in rent or an abatement of rent while the alterations are repaired.
Signing a New Lease
The other option for a tenant affected by alterations to his residence is to sign a new lease. A new lease will provide the terms of the rental agreement that pertain to the new aspects of the residence. These terms can include the square footage rented, the length of the rental and any changes to the amount of rent due each month. Note that a landlord might require the tenant to sign a new lease.
Keeping Everything As It Is
Another option when alterations are made to a property is for the tenant and landlord to do nothing. This is not a recommended course because it can often lead to disputes about the state of the residence and the amount of rent owed. If chosen, this path requires neither party to do anything, which means that all terms of the original lease are in effect. The problem with this choice is that it can become difficult to determine what to do with the portions of the agreement that are still in effect but do not apply to the new aspects of the rented space.