South Carolina law has several rules in place for both tenants and landlords. The key to achieving a smooth and healthy rental relationship is to communicate frequently with your tenant and review the lease's terms before taking any action.

Unfortunately, many problems in lease terms come when a tenant tries to move out of the rental property before the agreed date. If they aren't leaving for a valid reason or provide enough notice, they will cause problems for their landlord, as they will be missing rent money.

The solution is to include the correct clauses in your lease agreement to ensure that, even if your tenant moves out of the rental unit, you can still get the remaining rent you're owed.

Read on if you want to learn more about breaking a lease in South Carolina, what you can or can't do, and some tips to ensure you're always complying with South Carolina lease laws.

What Are the Notice Requirements for Terminating a Lease in South Carolina?

All tenants have a duty to provide written notice before moving out of an apartment or rental unit. Overall, they should send a notice for the following lease terms:

  • Weekly Leases: Seven days of notice.
  • Monthly Leases: 30 days of notice.

As it happens with other states in the U.S., tenants don't need to provide any notice for fixed-term leases.

When Can a Tenant Break a Rental Agreement in South Carolina?

There are a few scenarios where a tenant may be able to move out before their lease expires. Technically, tenants can leave the rental unit whenever they want (and for any reason). However, if they don't do it for a valid reason, they may have to pay the remaining rent to their landlord and face legal consequences.

Still, there are a few reasons that allow tenants to break a lease and avoid some of these penalties down the road. Here's a detailed explanation of all of them:

Landlord Harassment

Tenants may be able to move out before the lease expires if they're able to prove they're being harassed by their landlord.

Landlords in South Carolina, for example, are required to provide at least 24 hours of notice before entering the property unless there's an emergency or court order. If they fail to provide written notice within that period and enter the property anyway, the tenant may be relieved from their duty to pay rent during the rest of the lease term.

Furthermore, landlords can't lock out their tenants. In other words, they can't remove doors or windows, turn off utilities, or change the locks of the property without the tenant's consent.

Early Termination Clause

An 'Early Lease Termination' clause is often the 'safest' way to avoid any problems when breaking a lease early in South Carolina. Here, the landlord will include any terms they consider necessary for the tenant to know, including potential penalties and exceptions.

If there's an 'Early Termination Clause' in your lease, we suggest you review it thoroughly before taking any legal action against your tenant for leaving early.

Active Military Duty

The SCRA protects tenants starting active military duty and may relieve them from further rental obligations, as long as they meet certain requirements:

  • They signed the lease before entering duty.
  • They will remain on duty for at least 90 days.

Tenants who meet these requirements must send a notice letter to their landlord with a copy of the duty orders. They can send the commanding officer's deployment letter too, if it's available.

Uninhabitable Unit

Landlords in South Carolina must comply with the state's habitability rules. The state has certain health and safety codes that everyone must follow to ensure the property is always fit to house people.

If the landlord isn't able to keep up with these health and safety standards, the tenant will have the right to request repairs within a reasonable time frame. Now, if the landlord fails to provide these repairs, the tenant will be able to break the lease.

Specifically, landlords must follow these rules:

  • Compliance with all applicable building/housing codes in the state.
  • Delivering possession of the unit to the tenant according to the terms of the lease.
  • Providing necessary repairs when requested.
  • Keeping all common areas clean and safe.
  • Supplying running water.
  • Supplying hot water (at least in reasonable amounts).
  • Maintaining all appliances and utilities in good/safe working order.

Are There Other Valid Reasons for Ending a Lease in South Carolina?

Using one of the following reasons to break a lease may relieve the tenant from any further rent obligation, as long as they get approval from a court:

  • The lease involved an invalid or unenforceable contract, meaning neither the landlord nor tenant has a duty to comply with its terms.
  • The landlord failed to provide reasonable accommodations for people with qualified disabilities.
  • The landlord violated the terms of the written lease agreement repeatedly.
  • The landlord failed to include mandatory disclosures in the lease.

Unjustifiable Reasons for Ending a Lease Early in South Carolina

The reasons mentioned below may not be enough justification - on their own - to break a lease in South Carolina. This means that if the tenant tries to use these arguments to move out of the property, they will be more exposed to lawsuits, penalties, and other problems.

  • Moving closer to a friend, relative, or partner.
  • Moving in with someone.
  • Relocating for a new school or job.
  • Buying a new home.
  • Criminal activity near the area.
  • Upsizing or downsizing a property.
  • Moving out because of a separation, divorce, or another related issue.

Is It Possible to Get Compensated for Any Lost Money?

If you include an 'Early Termination Clause' in your lease agreement, and your tenant still tries to move out without providing proper notice or a valid reason, you will be entitled to receive compensation.

There are many ways you can get compensated for any owed money:

  • Charge a penalty fee equal to one or two months of rent.
  • Keep the security deposit.
  • Sue the tenant through a small claims court.

Most of the time, charging penalty fees will be the best way to go, as the tenant will have to pay them if they signed the lease and are trying to move out without a valid reason.

If you're open to negotiations, then you can also speak to your tenant to see if there's a way to come to a mutual agreement.

Are Landlords Obligated to Find a New Tenant?

South Carolina landlords have a duty to find a new tenant instead of charging their old one for all the rent they owe. In essence, landlords must 'mitigate damages' by re-renting the property as soon as possible. Then, the money they get from the new tenant will be used to cover the old one's debt.

If the landlord fails to find a suitable tenant in time, they may still charge their current one for the remaining rent. You're not required to relax your renting standards in order to find a replacement faster.

Moreover, you can charge your tenant for any necessary expenses surrounding the rental process, including tenant screening and advertisement fees.

Can Tenants Sublet the Property to Pay Rent?

Tenants in South Carolina could sublet the property if the rental lease allows it. If there's a clause in the lease agreement that allows tenants to sublet, they must send a written notice to their landlord alongside a copy of the proposed terms.

In order for the notice to be valid, the tenant must send it via certified mail, as it's the only method accepted by most courts because of their 'proof of delivery.'

Once you read the request, you're free to accept or deny it. However, keep in mind that you can only refuse subletting requests based on legitimate/appropriate arguments.

Bottom Line

Navigating your rental lease will become much easier once you start following all the tips mentioned here. As long as you prepare accordingly, you will be less likely to experience issues with your tenant, even if they decide to break their lease early.

Communicating with your tenant assertively will also ensure you get compensated if they move out. Most misunderstandings come due to a lack of communication and failure to review the rental agreement's terms, so if you can get that covered, you will be good to go.

Create a detailed rental agreement document that outlines all the necessary terms and conditions regarding breaking a lease, and protect yourself against any future problems.


What Is the South Carolina Residential Landlord-Tenant Act?

It's a law passed in 1986. It protects landlords and apartment, room, and house renters. If you want to ensure your entire lease term goes smoothly, you must do your best to understand the clauses established in this 'Act.'

What Can Landlords Do If the Tenant Refuses to Pay Rent?

If the tenant moves out of the rental unit for an invalid reason and refuses to pay the money they owe, the landlord will have the legal right to file a lawsuit.

Can Landlords Lose Their Right to Compensation If They Violate the Alabama Landlord-Tenant Law?

Yes. Landlords in South Carolina must make reasonable efforts to find a new tenant to cover rent for the rest of the existing lease term. It's important to note that landlords don't need to relax their rental standards to find someone faster.

If you're able to find a new tenant quickly, then the old one would only have to pay for the money you lost when the property was vacant. On the contrary, if you fail to find a suitable replacement, you may still hold the tenant liable for the money they owe.

Moreover, you can charge your old tenant for certain expenses, such as those related to advertisements and tenant screenings.

Can Landlords Keep a Tenant's Security Deposit to Cover Owed Rent?

Landlords can keep the security deposit to cover a part or the entirety of the remaining rent. If the deposit isn't enough to pay for everything, the landlord may sue the tenant via a small claims court.

The limit for these claims in South Carolina is $7,500.

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David is the co-founder & CMO of DoorLoop, a best-selling author, legal CLE speaker, and real estate investor. When he's not hanging with his three children, he's writing articles here!