Following Alabama landlord-tenant laws is the best way to prevent misunderstandings and legal problems during the entire lease term. However, even if you're compliant with all the terms and conditions established in your lease agreement, you may face a few problems down the road.
One issue that often overwhelms landlords involves early lease terminations. When a tenant tries to move out of the property before the rental lease ends, the landlord is likely to lose money in owed rent, future advertisement expenses, and more.
Thankfully, Alabama landlord-tenant law gives landlords a few options to handle an early termination process. The following page will cover everything you should know about Alabama landlord-tenant laws and breaking a lease in this state. That way, you'll be better protected if your tenant tries to break a lease early.
Notice Requirements to End a Lease Agreement
Alabama landlord-tenant laws specify different notice guidelines for tenants who want to break a periodic lease. Here are the two required notice periods:
- Weekly Lease - Seven days of notice.
- Monthly Lease - 30 days of notice.
The same conditions apply if the landlord is the one who wants to break the lease agreement. Keep in mind that no one is required to provide written notice for ending a fixed-term lease, as it already has an end date.
How Can Tenants Deliver Written Notice?
Landlord-tenant laws in Alabama require tenants to send a written notice letter through one out of two methods:
- Serving the letter personally.
- Leaving the letter with someone who resides at the rental property. The person must be at least 18 years old.
However, if there's no one else living at the rental unit, the tenant may be able to post a copy there.
Failing to comply with these terms will render the notice letter invalid, which can bring several legal problems to the tenant. In any case, it's recommended that the tenant asks their landlord to see which delivery method they prefer; they can also review the lease document for more information.
Can a Tenant End a Rental Lease Without Penalty?
Alabama tenants, technically, can break a lease for any reason. However, if they move out before the lease term expires, and they don't use a valid reason or don't send appropriate notice, the landlord will have the right to enforce penalties or seek legal action.
There are a few cases where tenants may be able to break a lease in Alabama and avoid penalties, and as landlords, it's important to identify them to avoid misunderstandings in the future.
The following section will cover all the factors associated with breaking a lease in Alabama without penalty.
Early Termination Clause
Landlord-tenant laws in Alabama allow landlords to include an 'Early Termination' clause in the lease document. This section is meant to provide specific provisions for those who may try to end a lease before it ends.
Tenants are required to review their lease agreement to see if there's any language surrounding 'Early Terminations.' That way, they will be able to negotiate with their landlord to see if they can come up with a solution that doesn't affect anyone.
On the other hand, the landlord will be able to outline all the potential penalties the tenant will face if they try to break their lease. Some common penalties include charging an amount equal to one or two months of rent or withholding the security deposit.
Active Military Duty
Federal law states that those entering active military duty may be able to break a lease in Alabama and avoid penalties. Active members are protected by the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) if they're ever relocated due to a permanent change of station or deployment.
In most cases, the protection will start the day the person enters duty and ends 30-90 days after they get discharged. Federal law allows tenants to terminate the lease 30 days after the next rent period starts and not a day before.
Tenants who want to break their lease in Alabama must:
- Deliver a written notice to the landlord.
- Send a copy of the deployment orders, PCS orders, or any letters from the commanding officer.
Furthermore, the tenant must prove they signed the lease before entering their active military service and that they will remain in service for at least 90 days.
Landlords are required by law to keep their rental property in good and safe working order throughout the entire lease term. Some common duties include:
- Complying with all applicable housing and building codes.
- Making repairs whenever necessary (however, tenants aren't allowed to withhold rent if the landlord doesn't fix the problem promptly).
- Keep all common areas safe and clean.
- Supply running water and appropriate amounts of hot water.
- Provide receptacles for waste, garbage, and debris.
If the landlord fails to provide the necessary repairs in time, the tenant will have the right to give them 14 days of notice so that they fix the problem within that period. Otherwise, the tenant will be able to end the lease without penalties.
Privacy Violations or Harassment from the Landlord
Landlord harassment is considered reason enough for tenants to leave a property without penalty, as long as the action is severe.
First, keep in mind that landlords must send their tenants at least two days of notice before entering their property in Alabama (unless it's an emergency or they have a court order).
Even though Alabama doesn't have any statutes surrounding lockouts, it's not recommended for landlords to change locks or remove windows/doors without the tenant's consent. Otherwise, a court could consider the tenant 'constructively evicted.'
Other Arguments Alabama Tenants Can Use
The following list will outline other reasons tenants could use to break their lease. Keep in mind that, while these reasons are valid, they may have to go through a court's approval before the tenant is able to move out.
Generally speaking, the tenant may be able to move out of the property and avoid penalties if the landlord:
- Violated the lease agreement repeatedly.
- Used a contract that's deemed illegal later.
- Failed to provide the tenant with mandatory disclosures (i.e. lead-based paint).
- Failed to provide reasonable accommodations as requested by the Fair Housing Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act. This applies to people with qualified disabilities.
Moreover, tenants who are suffering from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual abuse may talk to local law enforcement agents to see if they can get any protection from the state.
Are There Any Unjustifiable Reasons to End a Lease Early?
Here, you will find a final list of reasons tenants may use when breaking their lease. However, these reasons won't provide them the legal protection they need to avoid penalties, so you should keep them in mind:
- Moving out because of a separation or divorce.
- Moving closer to family, friends, or partners.
- Moving in with friends, family, or partners.
- Buying a new property/home.
- Relocating for a new school or job.
- Downgrading or upgrading a property.
- Criminal activity around the area.
Does Alabama Law Allow Landlords to Get Compensated?
Landlords in Alabama can get compensated if their tenants ever try to break the lease before it ends. A great way to ensure the landlord has a chance to get compensated once the tenant breaks the lease is to include an 'Early Termination Clause.'
Once the tenant signs the lease, they have to comply with its terms until they expire, and that includes the terms in your 'Early Termination' section. Failing to follow these rules will result in many penalties and legal problems for the tenant.
The penalties may vary depending on the case and on how/why the tenant ended the lease. As mentioned before, landlords often charge an amount equal to one or two months of rent to cover the money they're owed.
However, landlords may also keep the tenant's security deposit or charge them any re-rental fees necessary to find a suitable replacement. On the other hand, the tenant may try to negotiate with their landlord to come up with a mutual agreement. While this outcome is also possible, it entirely depends on how willing the landlord is to negotiate new terms.
Do Landlords Have a Responsibility to Find a Replacement Tenant?
Landlords must 'mitigate damages' once a tenant moves out by making a reasonable effort to find a replacement. In other words, the landlord can't simply charge their tenant for all their owed rent; instead, they must try to find a new tenant.
Generally speaking, if the landlord is able to find a new tenant before the lease term expires, the rent they receive will be used to cover the old one's debt. On the other hand, if the landlord can't find a suitable person to occupy the property, they may still charge the tenant for the money they owe.
In Alabama, tenants are expected to still lose at least one month's worth of rent, as judges in civil courts award the landlord with that amount even if they're able to re-rent the unit quickly.
Can Alabama Tenants Sublet the Rental Property to Pay Rent?
Tenants can sublet the property to pay rent if the lease allows it (or doesn't explicitly prohibit it). If the lease already has a clause that addresses subletting terms, the tenant must ask their landlord for permission by sending a letter with all the proposed guidelines.
Regardless of the case, tenants can only send that letter through certified mail, as it's the delivery method that most courts accept to prove the landlord received the letter.
Landlords, generally, can only refuse the sublet request based on legitimate or reasonable factors.
An early termination doesn't have to be as bad as it seems. In some cases, it can be an opportunity for the landlord to find another suitable person to stay in the property.
However, you must always ensure you're creating detailed lease agreement documents where you outline all the terms necessary for an early termination. That way, you will be able to enforce penalties if needed in the future.
Once both parties sign the lease, all that's left to do is to keep constant and assertive communication during the lease term to ensure there are no misunderstandings. The better communication there is, the more open both parties will be to negotiate.
What Happens If a Tenant Breaks a Lease Early in Alabama?
The outcome depends on why the tenant broke the lease and how much notice they provided.
If the tenant sent a proper notice and had appropriate/reasonable arguments for ending the lease, they may be able to move out without facing any legal consequences.
On the contrary, if the tenant doesn't send any notice or uses an invalid argument before leaving, they will get exposed to lawsuits and other consequences/penalties.
Is There Anything a Landlord Can't Do When a Tenant Breaks a Lease Early?
Landlords can't sit back and charge their tenants for all the money they're owed, as all property owners/landlords in Alabama have a duty to re-rent the property to 'mitigate damages.'
On the other hand, a landlord may not be entitled to compensation if the tenant is moving because of repeated lease violations, such as a rent increase mid-lease, harassment, or other.
Can Landlords Lose Their Right to Compensation If They Violate the Alabama Landlord-Tenant Law?
Yes. If a landlord fails to comply with the terms of the lease agreement, the tenant would be considered 'constructively evicted.' In these cases, the tenant gets relieved from their duties surrounding the lease, meaning they can leave the rental unit without paying penalty fees.
Can Landlords Keep the Security Deposit as a Penalty?
Landlords can keep a tenant's security deposit in an effort to receive the rest of the rent. Still, if the landlord isn't able to cover everything they're owed with the deposit amount, they may seek further legal action through a small claims court to get the rest.
- Alabama Eviction Laws: The Process & Timeline In 2023
- Alabama Landlord Tenant Laws & Rights for 2023
- Alabama Security Deposit Laws | Deductions & Rights
- Alabama Squatter's Rights & Adverse Possession Laws
- Alabama Code § 35-9A-441
- Alabama Code § 35-9A-204
- Alabama Code § 35-10-70
- Alabama Code § 35-9A-404
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA)