What to Do When Your Landlord Breaks Your Rental Agreement

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Rental agreement

A friend of mine rang my bell. “My landlord just came into my home and took money from me,” he lamented. Indeed, his landlord had thought to save him the trouble of mailing the money and entered the premises, taking the envelope marked “rent.” Did he have a right to do that? No. In this case, the renter immediately called the landlord and asked to see him.

The two parties had a “sit down” meeting, and the landlord confessed he hadn’t respected the renter’s privacy adequately and that he wouldn’t do that again. He also—perhaps in a show of remorse—handed the renter a $100 bill, to pay his utility bills with.

The renter was grateful and all was resolved. There was never another incident where the landlord entered the apartment without the renter’s permission. What may have contributed to the scenario was that the landlord was new to the do’s and don’ts of rental property ownership, and the tenant was a new to renting/ They were both learning their way around, as it were, and it worked out fine. However, sometimes the landlord doesn’t have the renter’s best interests at heart.

So, here’s everything you need to know about what your landlord can and cannot do and what you can do if the lease agreement is broken.

If You Suspect the Landlord Wants to Break the Lease

Although the above incident worked out well, there was a moment of hesitation on the renter’s part. He felt, rightly so, that his first priority was to protect his rights. In fact, first and foremost on the renter’s mind was the suspicion that the landlord might be trying to break the rental lease.

Although this was not the case here, you may be wondering what to do if you come across a situation where your own landlord, for all intents and purposes, wants to break the lease and does not seem to want to resolve any differences.

If that’s the case, you should become acquainted with what your landlord can and cannot do:

What Your Landlord Can Do

Every state has slightly different sets of laws on the books, but all states have a clause that the courts term: “an unconditional quit notice.” This basically means that you must leave if the landlord asks you to, with good cause (on the landlord’s part), whether or not the lease is up. In some cases, for example, gambling is seen as a legitimate reason to have to evacuate your premises if asked to do so by the landlord.

In the unfortunate event that you and your landlord actually resort to fisticuffs, he would, in some states, have the right to ask that you leave, as you will be deemed to have assaulted the landlord. This is also the case in some states if you threaten him or her.

It’s a universal truth: you get so much more accomplished with honey than you do with vinegar, so you know not to let any interaction turn ugly; verbal assault in and of itself may be grounds for your landlord to break your lease.

What Your Landlord Cannot Do

A landlord cannot, without good reason, break the lease that you have both entered into. For example, if your contract ends Oct. 31, 2020, and your landlord decides that he’d like to move his family in on Oct. 1, 2020, he will have to provide other accommodations for them until the lease end-date.

Your landlord can’t say he wants you out tomorrow. You have to be given ample time in which to find a new apartment.

When Your Landlord Violates the Lease Agreement

There is more than one way for a landlord to break the terms within a lease agreement. He or she may knowingly violate a lease agreement. For instance, courts will recognize that the landlord acted illegally if he or she frequently enters your apartment without your permission. This is also the case if your landlord doesn’t make basic repairs when you ask and doesn’t keep walkways (and driveways) clear. Too, the landlord will be deemed to have violated the agreement if he or she refuses to return your security deposit.

Action You Can Take

small claims court

You must inform your landlord of your intent to resolve the issue via written form (“written notice”), and you must request that the situation be remedied. It’s always a good idea to send a letter by Return Receipt/Certified Mail. Detail the issue; be precise.

Next, you’ll want to try to resolve the situation. If it isn’t feasible to do so, perhaps because your relationship is strained to the point where you can’t communicate effectively, hire a mediator or a truly unbiased third party.

Consider paying to break the agreement if possible. Sometimes conflicts are minor and you’ll feel best when you have the whole problem behind you. Ask your landlord what the fee for moving out early and breaking your rental agreement would be. If the fee is minimal and you really believe that the problems your landlord caused are minor, you may decide to just cut your losses and go.

Finally, you can take your claim to Small Claims Court. If you believe that your landlord has egregiously broken the rental agreement, you may be able to break your rental agreement free of charge and may even be entitled to financial compensation. Examples of such a situation include your landlord refusing to hire an exterminator for a pest infestation or your landlord repeatedly entering your apartment without permission. Seek an attorney to consider your legal options.

However, what does not work and is not recommended: withholding rent, whether in an escrow fund or not. Reason: let’s say the court rules in your landlord’s favor. You’ll not only be liable for back rent but for any legal fees he’s incurred, as well.

Bottom Line

Become familiar with the laws of your state. Play it safe; resolve any conflicts that arise with well-chosen words and a friendly demeanor. That’s a winning strategy in everything, but certainly when your landlord is making noises about breaking a lease.

4 Responses to “What to Do When Your Landlord Breaks Your Rental Agreement”

  1. September 14, 2016 at 1:01 pm, roseanna griffin said:

    hi my name is Roseanna m griffin and I live in Lewiston maine at 6 cloutier street apt 3 and my landlord told me that if I don't pay her the back rent she go to chang the lockon the door . I told here I was moive because they refuse to fix anythan and she told me that I lost my section 8 because of that want can I do


  2. March 29, 2019 at 5:16 pm, Kenneth VanArsdale said:

    I sined a lease and paid a my deposit and was suppose to move in April 27. The landlord e mailed me and said he could not move in and he was not honoring the lease??


    • April 10, 2019 at 2:29 pm, Angela said:

      > this literally just happened to my son and I am trying to figure out what to do. He and his girlfriend has no where to go.


  3. July 04, 2019 at 1:59 pm, Tim said:

    My landlord, also my ex-employer releived me from my job due to false claims and has been emailing me with threats ordering me to vacate my apartment within 24 hours which I have a 12 month lease on and having nothing to do with my employment with with them. Nothing in my lease states having to move if I'm terminated from my job. I'm getting emails requesting I vacate immediately and if I do within 24 hours ill be compensated $1000 and a moving truck. I've not took any money from them nor moved and because I didn't abide by there offer in the 24 hours ( which is impossible) I'm being emailed stating I am to vacate immediately. I've not broke my lease nor been treated with any kind of respect from them. The whole ordeal is unlawful and the circumstances leading up to my relief of employment was absolutely racist on the management behalf. Need some insight on my rights in this matter ASAP. Losing my job and my home is making my resposabilies to my family to shelter and provide obsolete.


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