Tenants breaking residential leases early can easily become a headache for property managers. While Texas law allows tenants to move out before a lease ends under certain conditions, there are other cases where the landlord may have the upper hand.
One of the most critical aspects of Texas' landlord-tenant law is how breaking a lease works. On this page, we'll take a look at all the conditions that need to be met in order for a tenant to break a lease in Texas so that you're better prepared for the future.
First, you must evaluate the kind of lease you currently have. Texas law doesn't require tenants with fixed-end date leases to provide notice, as the lease will expire on the date that was set.
However, the process changes a bit when it comes to periodic leases. Texas law requires tenants to provide different amounts of notice depending on the type of lease they have:
- Weekly Lease - Seven days.
- Monthly Lease - 30 days.
- Quarterly Lease - N/A.
- Yearly Lease - N/A.
While there are no statutes for breaking a quarterly or yearly lease, it's considered appropriate for tenants to provide at least 30 days of notice.
Texas tenants who fail to provide notice will likely have to pay a penalty or face legal consequences.
Breaking a Lease Agreement
Yes. Texas law allows tenants to break a lease early without penalties, as long as certain conditions are met:
Early Termination Clause
This is the most common scenario for landlords and tenants in Texas. If you include an "Early Termination Clause" in your lease agreement, then you will be able to specify what happens if the tenant decides to break the lease early.
Typically, early termination clauses require tenants to pay a penalty if they break the lease. Moreover, this clause specifies how much notice the landlord needs to get before the tenant moves out.
You must make sure that all the rules and guidelines for the early termination clause are explained thoroughly so that the tenant doesn't try to break the lease without paying penalties.
Now, there's a second outcome here, which is called "Mutual Termination." If a tenant asks to break the lease early, and you agree, they may be able to move out of the rental unit without paying penalties.
Keep in mind that no one is forced to agree to this type of termination. If both parties agree to do this, then you should write down the terms and get all the necessary signatures.
Active Military Duty
Tenants may be able to move out of the rental unit under an "Active Military Duty" clause. This is thanks to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act, which protects active members who are relocated for any reason such as:
- Change of Station
The SCRA protects active service members from the day they enter active duty and up to 30-90 days after they get discharged.
Still, tenants have to send the landlord written notice before moving out of the rental unit, as well as a copy of the deployment or change of station orders. On the other hand, if they can't prove they signed the lease before entering active duty or that they will remain on duty for at least 90 days, they may not be able to break the lease early.
It's important to note that tenants can only end the lease 30 days after the next rent period begins and not a day before.
Unsafe Living Conditions in the Unit
Landlords are required by law to keep their property in good condition while they get a new tenant. Moreover, the new tenant has the legal right to request repairs in a timely manner.
If the landlord fails to provide these repairs in time, the tenant may be able to move out of the property without paying the total remaining rent.
According to Texas law, it's the landlord's duty to provide their new tenant with the following:
- Smoke Alarms
- Running Water
- Functional Plumbing
- and more
If the landlord repeatedly violates their duty to keep their property in good shape, the tenant can send a written notice stating they will break the lease early unless they fix the problem in time.
Now, keep in mind this doesn't apply to any minor problem the property may have. In essence, tenants can only break the lease if the problem affects the person's physical health or safety.
Moreover, to be eligible for this condition, the tenant must have been paying rent on time. They must also provide the necessary notice to their landlord.
Landlord Harassment or Privacy Violations
If the landlord violates the tenant's privacy in any way, the tenant may be able to break the lease and even seek legal protection.
The two most common scenarios include:
- Entering the Property - Even though landlords aren't required by law to provide notice within a specified period, they still have to do it within a reasonable timeframe. Removing windows/doors, turning off the utilities, and other similar actions are considered illegal for the landlord to do.
- Changing Locks - Landlords can't change the locks of their property in Texas unless the tenant didn't pay rent or did something illegal that attempted to harm the landlord or the property.
Domestic Violence, Stalking, or Sexual/Elder Abuse
Texas protects tenants who suffer from any kind of domestic violence, assault, stalking, or other similar cases. As long as they can show the landlord proof they're victims of any of these cases, they may be able to break the lease early without paying rent penalties.
First, the tenant must provide the landlord with at least 30 days of notice and a copy of any documentation that supports the stalking, abuse, or assault. This documentation includes:
- Documentation or testimony from a qualified person or licensed healthcare provider
- Temporary Injunction
- Protective Order
- Emergency Protection Order
- Temporary "Ex Parte" Order
If the tenant was the only occupant of the unit, and they die before the lease expires, someone representing the deceased's estate may be able to terminate the agreement without penalties.
Here's a list of other reasons that tenants could use as an argument to break the lease early, although they often need to be approved by a court:
- Unenforceable Contracts
- Failure to Provide Mandatory Disclosures
- Qualified Disabilities
- Senior Citizen's Health Issues
Furthermore, if the landlord repeatedly violates the terms of the lease, the tenant will have the legal right to break the agreement.
There are some unjustified reasons tenants could use to try to move out of the property before the lease expires, and even though they seem valid, they're often not enough justification.
In these cases, the tenant will have to pay the rent they owe to the landlord as a penalty.
Some of those unjustifiable reasons include:
- Relocating somewhere else as an upgrade or downgrade.
- Moving near a close friend or family member.
- Relocating to a new job or school.
- Buying a new home.
- Moving in with a new partner.
How Should Tenants Deliver the Lease Notice Legally?
Texas law allows tenants to deliver lease notices in different ways, including:
- Handing the notice in person.
- Sending the notice through certified mail, registered mail, or regular mail.
- Posting the notice inside or outside the front door if there's no mailbox.
- Leaving the notice at the front gate of the property if there's anything preventing them from entering the property legally.
You can include a clause in the lease agreement that states how you would like to receive the notice letter in case of an early termination.
There are several consequences for tenants who try to break a lease without a valid reason, including:
- Penalty Fees
- Poor Credit Score
- Bad Reputation with Future Landlords
Can Tenants Avoid Penalties for an Early Lease Termination?
Technically, they can, as long as they comply with any of the legal reasons stated above.
Generally speaking, here's what a tenant should do to avoid paying penalties when they break a lease early:
- Offering the landlord help to re-rent the property.
- Providing an appropriate amount of notice.
- Asking for permission to sublet the property.
Do your best to be as clear as possible with your lease agreement clauses. If you're including an early termination clause, make sure you're not missing any important details that could lead to a misunderstanding. This clause will be the key to ensuring you're protected in this scenario.
Moreover, you should be clear when explaining the consequences tenants may face if they try to break the lease without a valid reason.
You can ask your tenant to pay penalty fees to cover the following expenses:
- Any remainder of rent owed for the rest of the lease.
- Re-advertising or marketing expenses to find prospective tenants.
- Any screening expenses to find a new tenant.
It's important to note that Texas doesn't allow landlords to impose any penalty they want, as the tenant's only liability is the expenses that the landlord will have to cover.
According to the Texas Apartment Association, you're recommended not to ask for more than 85% of a month's rent to cover these expenses, unless you're suing a delinquent tenant for past rent.
Keep in mind that you may be able to take your case to a small claims court if the tenant doesn't comply with the terms in the lease agreement. If this happens, make sure to seek legal counsel, gather as much evidence as possible, and let the tenant know about what you're planning to do if they don't follow the rules.
Subletting The Property
Yes, tenants are allowed to sublet the property unless the lease states otherwise. If you're going to allow tenants to sublet, then make sure you impose appropriate conditions to protect yourself.
Moreover, you must be able to screen the replacement tenant, as you're not required to lower your renting standards for the tenant.
Finding a New Tenant
The Texas Property Code (Sec. 91.006) states that the landlord has a duty to "mitigate damages" if the tenant leaves before the lease expires.
This means that the landlord must make a reasonable effort to find a new tenant and not charge the tenant for the remainder of the rent.
The tenant will only be asked to cover rent for the amount of time the property was vacant.
Overall, the key to preventing any problems with your lease agreements is to be as clear as possible with your conditions, especially the ones regarding breaking the lease early.
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Can Landlords Evict Their Tenants If They Don't Pay Rent?
Yes, but they must provide their tenants with an appropriate amount of notice. If the tenant doesn't pay after that period, the landlord can evict them.
Is It the Landlord's Duty to Include an Early Termination Clause?
Yes. If you don't include this type of clause in your lease, the tenant may be able to break the agreement without paying penalties.
Do Landlords Need to Find a Replacement Tenant Right Away?
Landlords are required by law to make a reasonable effort to re-rent their unit as soon as the tenant moves out.
Does Breaking a Lease in Texas Hurt the Tenant's Credit?
A tenant's credit score may get affected if they move out of the property without paying all outstanding fees, including back rent and other fees.
- Texas Tenant Rights Webinar with Attorney Ernie Garcia
- Texas Eviction Laws: The Process & Timeline In 2023
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- Texas Security Deposit Laws | Deductions & Rights
- Texas Rent Control Laws (2023) | The Complete Guide
- Servicemembers' Civil Relief Act (SCRA) | United States Courts (uscourts.gov)
- Serving the Texas Rental Housing Industry | Texas Apartment Association (taa.org)
- Texas Property Code Section 91.006 - Landlord's Duty to Mitigate Damages (public.law)
- Texas Property Code - PROP § 91.005 | FindLaw
- General Information - Landlord/Tenant Law - Guides at Texas State Law Library